Family farm grows, cleans, processes

Spices, pedigreed seed | Eskdale Seed Farm goes with the flow as markets change and prices rise

LEROSS, Sask. — The Heggie family has found themselves in the land reclamation business this fall.

It was another wet year on the family’s Eskdale Seed Farm near Leross.

With harvest complete and previously flooded areas dry, Robert Heggie and his two sons, Kyle and Joel, are trying to reclaim the 1,400 acres they were unable to seed this year on their 6,000 acre farm.

Two European exchange workers are helping with the fieldwork and drainage.

Just down the hill from the home Heggie shares with his wife, Cres, three full-time employees are working in another part of the business — their seed cleaning plant.

The plant has three separate cleaning lines: two dedicated to cleaning coriander and caraway and another for cleaning pedigree seed, both what is grown on the Heggie farm and custom cleaning jobs, including organic.

The plant began operating in 1981 to clean seed for local farmers. Pulse crops for the export market were added in the late 1980s and coriander and caraway arrived in the early 1990s.

The company tooled up for spice processing and soon became one of the largest spice processors in Saskatchewan.

A second cleaning line was added in 1997 and for a time the plant operated 24 hours a day to keep up with demand.

Calvin Wingert, who has worked at the plant for 20 years and manages its operations, said the spice market is small but has treated them well.

“The industry grew for eight or nine years, and then leveled off for eight or nine years. It’s in a bit of a dip now, but like most commodities it will come back,” he said.

The plant eventually added a third cleaning line to allow the farm to do value added work on their crops without disturbing the spice cleaning.

“The plant has allowed us to diversify into the food market, and people are always going to need to eat. Plus there are always going to be farmers who need seed to plant,” Heggie said.

“That’s how we’ve been able to stay as busy as we have been over the years. It’s because we don’t try to do one thing all year long. Then, when the doors close, you’ve got nothing to do. Traditionally, when one thing slows down, something else has picked up.”

The farm grows crops with the most profit potential. Lately that has been canola, but going all-in to any one crop or market in not in their business plan.

Heggie uses three guiding principles to manage Eskdale Seed Farm: stay diverse, keep an eye out for emerging or potential markets and be willing to attempt new ventures.

He has recently reduced the amount of acres seeded in spices because of low prices. The crops also have problems with disease during wet years.

However, the Heggies are in a position to quickly respond to rising spice prices by increasing spice acres and return the plant to operating 24 hours a day.

“Anything that can be processed and marketed out of the cleaner, where another company comes here and picks it up, is usually more profitable for us,” Heggie said.

This includes the pedigree seed the farm grows, such as wheat, barley, oats, flax, peas, and fall rye.

As their spice acres decreased, the number of acres planted to oats for the gluten free marketed has increased.

There are stringent requirements for growing gluten free oats. For instance, a load will be rejected if one gluten-containing grain kernel is found in a one-kilogram sample.

Crop rotations are crucial when growing pedigree seed and gluten free oats.

No other cereal grains are allowed in the rotation when growing oats for the gluten free market. Heggie said growing spices in the oat rotation helps maintain the integrity of the crop.

Careful field management and equipment cleanouts allow the farm meet the gluten-free oat standards, but the cleaning plant also helps.

“We probably gross more per acre growing all these other things, which we prefer, than canola, and there is a lot less risk (in terms of input costs), but you need things to rotate them with like peas or canola.”

Heggie said he and Cres are thrilled that Kyle and Joel have been able to stay in the area to help ex-pand the farm together.

“I do what I love to do, and I get to do it with my family,” he said.

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