by CONNIE TABBERT
WHITEWATER REGION (Cobden) — A local business owner has travelled the world due to the success of his business.
Reuben Stone, owner of VallyBio on Hwy. 17 just west of Cobden, has travelled to Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
“I’m very surprised in the last year in the requests, and types of requests, coming in,” he said. “Hemp is starting to take us to some pretty interesting places in the world. Hemp has taken us to Europe and taken me to New Zealand and Australia this winter.
“Our genetics are registered in New Zealand and Europe already,” he continued. “The goal is to actually move product to these other parts of the world.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Mr. Stone said.
It was a few years ago when he went into the industrial hemp business, purchasing half of his parent’s farm in Micksburg. Eventually, he and wife Keanan moved the business to its current location on Hwy. 17.
The business has grown from just himself to now employing six people, along with himself and his father Dalton.
He noted his father is a cattleman, while he has no interest in cattle – other than eating them, he joked.
“I’m much more on the science side of agriculture and the crop genetics side,” he said. “I’ve taken a different tact to carve out my place in the industry.”
His wife Keanan noted in 2007 the business began small in Micksburg and then transitioned into hemp grade cleaning, followed by seed cleaning.
“We’ve been a registered seed establishment since 2014 and authorized importer since January 2017,” she said.
For the past five years, ValleyBio has hosted a customer appreciation/annual field day. While it was held in the summer the first three years, for the last two it’s been held in September, she said.
“We start out with a tour of all of the variety trial plots,” Ms. Stone said.
The trial plots of oats, barley, spring wheat and soy beans are new this year, along with the industrial hemp.
“We partnered with a number of different companies,” she said. “There are 17 different companies that gave us varieties to test out in our region to see how they grow in our region.”
ValleyBio’s research team, under the guidance of seed production technician Hannah Windatt, have been collecting data each day on all the varieties, Ms. Stone said, explaining, this data can then be shared with distributors who wish to see a certain variety.
“The goal, on our farm and the farms of those we sell to, is to provide the best possible varieties suited to this region,” she said. “We get a higher generation of seed so we can grow on our farm and multiply it. We clean it, package it, grade it and sell it.”
She noted this year’s industrial hemp are some of their own varieties as well as a few from France. Shareholders in UniSeed, of which ValleyBio is one, owns the hemp genetics for eastern Canada.
“There are currently five new varieties we are trying to bring to registration,” Ms. Stone said. “We are including them in our variety trials to see how they compare with those already registered.”
Explaining who ValleyBio is, Ms. Stone said it is a registered seed establishment.
“On a daily basis, we are conditioning seed, running it through equipment to take out the rocks, sticks and bugs after harvest, and then we have three accredited graders on staff so we can examine the seeds after they are cleaned and make sure they meet the standards set by the Canadian government,” she said, continuing, “We package and label with Canadian government-issued tags stating that it meets a certain grade and we sell to seed distributors or retail.”
Tuesday morning, the company shared the collected data on the diseases affecting the varieties given the wet growing conditions, Ms. Stone said.
Those in attendance also had an opportunity, in the afternoon, to learn about the industrial hemp crop, its marketable uses and management, in terms of planting, growing and harvesting, she added.
The biggest fears of new hemp growers is how the plant is harvested, since it has been stated it’s very difficult to harvest, she said.
“It’s actually not as difficult as people think, so we show them,” Ms. Stone said.
Unfortunately, a live demonstration wasn’t available due to the wet conditions, so staff showed the equipment used and spoke about how it’s used, she said.
Mr. Stone said, “In the future, we hope to have some hemp-specific type of equipment, but we’re are a ways from that yet. We manage the crop so that it suits the normal farm equipment.”
He agreed with his wife, saying harvesting the crop “makes the guys squirm a little bit about growing hemp.
“They are very concerned about the ability to harvest the crop and that’s why we do a walk-through and a walk around the equipment,” Mr. Stone continued, adding, “I point out, basically from experience, what the troublesome areas might be and go through the process of harvest with them, get them to a comfort level.
“They’re here for demonstration and education.”
Mr. Stone is excited about the interest of the people who attended the day-long event, noting many travelled for several hours to attend the event.
“There were a lot more than just local farmers, many people came from far away,” he said. “There were government types, agriculture researchers from the States and big farms from down in the States.
“We have people interested enough in our business that they’re willing to travel for a full day to get here.”
Looking back to when the business started, Mr. Stone said the business has grown, but it’s not done growing yet.
“There’s a lot of growth potential yet,” he said.
Ms. Stone agreed.
“This year we are proud to show off how far we’ve come since last year in terms of the investments we’re making in the business,” she said. “We purchased some new equipment, a new seed treater and new storage bins that are good grade, welded steel bins. Next week two more of those bins will be installed and we’re putting an addition on a side of the building to reconfigure our seed treatment to offer custom seed treating on smaller lots.”
Ms. Stone said when Mr. Stone was getting into the business, it was Marc Bercier from St. Isadore, Ontario, who helped them get established.
“He was very much a mentor to Reuben getting started,” she said. “He helped us and provided us with the equipment we have that we are working with. He really got us into the seed business.
“We’ve expanded and come a long way. We’ve rolled with it and hemp takes us places. As Reuben says, hemp is always the leader.”
Ms. Stone continued, “(Hemp) takes us into things. We are grain cleaning because of the hemp, which lead to seed production for industrial hemp, which lead to seed production of other varieties, which lead to the seed cleaning establishment, so that we could package it. We are now able to import seeds and new varieties.
“(Hemp) has lead the way and we’ve rolled with it and we learned as we went and we put our hearts and souls into it to make it the best it can be and provide good quality jobs for the region.”
Phil Bailey, a soybean representative from SeCan, was one of the guest speakers for the field day. Prior to talking about the various test plots, he spoke about how SeCan, along with ValleyBio, is supporting 4H, both locally and nationally.
As part of a contest this year, 4H members were invited to take a ‘selfie’ in a field of soybeans with a SeCan sign and post it using a SeCan hashtag. For each ‘selfie’ posted, that 4H member’s club received $25.
“Running the competition between western and eastern Canada last year, eastern Canada completely dominated the contest, which is great for the 4H clubs in the east,” Mr. Bailey said.
A second contest will be held the week of Oct. 9 to 16th, he said. For every unit of soybeans ordered during that week, and confirmed as a sale, 4H Canada will receive $1 a bag to be split between all the clubs throughout the country.
“It’s a great program, and ValleyBio has participated in it the last few years,” Mr. Bailey said. “We’re looking forward to working with them again to support 4H in this county.”
He noted these two SeCan programs have seen more than $200,000 donated to 4H.