But a Kiwi start-up has an ingenious plan to produce leaf protein concentrate ingredients for consumer food companies around the world.
It could help to feed the planet and reduce on-farm emissions, too.
Leaft Foods co-founders John and Maury Leyland Penno launched the venture this month and are partnering with Canterbury farmers to get the idea off the ground.
At a farm-level it’s as simple as producing leafy crops.
“There’s no better climate, soils and farming base for producing leafy crops than New Zealand,” Leyland Penno, the former Synlait chief executive, said. Maury Leland Penno is a former Fonterra executive.
“But, of course, those leafy crops often have too much protein in them for the animals that graze on them. That protein can hold back the performance of the animals and it can lead to excessive nitrogen losses out of the farming systems.
“It would be much more efficient if we could capture protein directly from leaves.”
So, using scalable industrial technologies and food processing techniques the Leyland Pennos plan to produce highly functional leaf protein ingredients, ultimately enabling food companies to create sustainable food products.
The couple wouldn’t disclose the exact technology but insist it integrates with what farmers are already doing.
And their protein products are expected to have high nutritional value and a lighter environmental footprint than animal or grain protein sources.
“We’ve had some farmers let us harvest some of their crops in sample areas as we work up our processes,” Leyland Penno said.
“I’ve been speaking with many farmers about how these systems might integrate into their existing farming systems and we’ve been doing some modelling work considering how it might change their environmental footprint.”
If Leaft Foods continues to get the green light Canterbury farmers could soon supply raw crops to the business. Growers would be paid on the amount they supply.
The Leyland Pennos are optimistic.
They believe their process will not only extract high-quality protein but also produce a reduced protein, high-quality ensiled feed that has the potential to increase animal performance and reduce nitrogen losses from dairy and beef farming systems.
Arguably, crops have risen and fallen in favour, but today a growing number of consumers seem to agree it ticks the box against the biggest problems plaguing the Earth: climate, food and health.
The Leyland Pennos have long recognised that and are adamant the global food industry must change to responsibly feed a rapidly growing population while protecting the planet.
They created Leaft Foods to be part of the solution.
“NZ’s innovative farmers and businesspeople have used the natural advantages of the climate and environment of Aotearoa NZ to create world-leading business models, especially in the production, manufacture and export of dairy, beef, lamb and wool commodities,” Maury Leyland Penno said.
“One of the critical factors behind these strengths has been the ability to grow green leafy crops.”
Leaft Foods has already partnered with some of NZ’s leading research institutes, universities, agricultural advisers and farmers.
We have achieved enough to be confident that Leaft Foods will be able to commercialise this, he said.
“The reality is, if you want to transform you’ve got to be able to do it at scale.
“It’s got to work for farmers.
“It’s got to be something that farmers can do and profitable – and more profitable than what they are currently doing – otherwise they’re not going to make the change.
“We’ve already had conversations with some targeted companies and we’ll continue to have those conversations over time.”
The business is focused on Canterbury but given its structure it could be operated NZ-wide and abroad.
Leaft Foods is looking to get infrastructure in place and recruit staff in coming months.