Construction on a pea-protein processing plant got underway near Portage la Prairie Thursday.

Roquette announced in January it would be creating a facility west of the small Manitoba city.

The French company will invest more than $400-million in the plant to expand its pea-protein production capacity and will help address the growing customer demand for plant-based proteins in North America.

Pascal Leroy, vice-president of the pea and new protein business line for Roquette, said the location in southern Manitoba was chosen because it’s in the middle of the yellow pea crop.

“With its unique properties, pea-proteins from these local yellow crops is matching all kind of customer expectations,” said Leroy.

Pea-protein is gluten-free and non-GMO.

Once complete, the plant will employ up to 150 people.

“There’s a lot of curiosity. People are intrigued by the prospects of producing some peas,” said Kameron Blight, reeve, RM of Portage la Prairie.

Blight said he expects to see an increase in pea acres in the immediate area. He also said there’s already a lot of peas growing in the southwest area and further west.

“It offers up some agricultural opportunities for a lot of producers in the area and in Manitoba,” said Blight.

In the meantime, hundreds of people will be working to construct the facility.

Minister of Agriculture Ralph Eichler said the plant is going to change the landscape of Manitoba permanently.

“It’s going to mean opportunities not only for the pea processing plant, but growth opportunities as well, which will also contribute to help us grow our livestock sector,” said Eichler.

Premier Brian Pallister said the provincial government is proud to participate in the groundbreaking of the ambitious facility.

“This project and our partnership truly demonstrates that Manitoba is open for business and ready to compete for investment in the world market,” said Pallister.

The pea-protein plant is expected to be complete in 2019.