Rick & Curtis Van Laecke
By Matt McIntosh
Like the seeds they sell, Rick and Angela Van Laecke grew their business from the ground up. They are the owners and operators of Horizon Seeds Canada Inc. – a Norfolk and Oxford County-area seed producer, processor and dealer – and a proud farm family.
Along with their children Curtis (age 25) and Candice (age 23), they are also featured as the faces of August for the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Their page is sponsored by SeCan.
Rick and Angela started farming in 1993 after purchasing 200 acres of cropland near Courtland. Originally growing corn for various seed companies (which process and resell grains for planting rather than for human or animal consumption), the couple eventually decided to try developing their own brand of ready-to-plant seeds. The company is called Horizon Seeds Canada Inc., and the passion they have for agriculture stems from both Rick and Angela growing up on their respective family farms.
“Our main crop is hybrid corn, which is made by crossing two inbred varieties,” says Rick. “We originally chose to grow seed corn because it was a perfect fit for the growing conditions. It works really well in our sandy Norfolk County soil.”
Now over a decade old, Horizon Seeds began when the couple started breeding their own corn, and acquired seed processing equipment that allowed them to dry, treat and package their seeds – a necessary process when preparing grain for sale to other dealers and farmers. Rick and Angela have continued to vertically integrate their business since officially launching it, and now have over 1,000 acres of cropland; they grow corn and soybeans, all of which is marketed under the name Horizon Seeds Canada Inc.
The facilities housing their processing equipment are, as Rick describes, organized horizontally in a pseudo assembly-line fashion. This means they can move their product through the processing system efficiently while maintaining seed quality.
One of the more notable aspects of their business, though, is Rick and Angela’s use of buildings previously employed for the drying of tobacco leaves.
“The Norfolk-area used to produce a lot of tobacco. We repurposed some of the pre-existing buildings for drying seed,” says Rick. “The conditions in the tobacco buildings mimic a natural drying process, which makes for a more vigorous seed.”
We get a huge amount of satisfaction from growing and providing a premium product.”
The Van Laecke’s employ 16 full-time staff, as well as approximately 200 seasonal staff comprised of local high-school students. For about two weeks each summer, says Angela, the students are tasked with removing the tassels (the brown top of a maturing corn plant) from designated rows in the field; this allows for cross-pollination between the plants, which produce the hybrid seeds sold by the family.
“We harvest our seed corn by removing the whole cob from the stalk, just like sweet corn. Not stripping the kernels off through a combine helps protect the embryo in the seed,” says Rick.
Rick and Angela’s life-long love of agriculture has also transferred to their son Curtis and daughter Candice. In terms of education, Candice holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Food and Agricultural Business from the University of Guelph, while Curtis holds a Bachelor in Plant Science from the University of Guelph and a Master Certificate from the University of California, Davis. Curtis is very involved in the breeding side of the business, and Candice works off-farm in the agricultural industry.
The family enjoys boating in their spare time, and can often be seen cruising Lake Erie’s waters near Turkey Point. Candice competes on a synchronized skating team in London, while Curtis enjoys playing pool – he even played competitively for many years. Rick and Angela also officially welcomed Jessica, Curtis’ spouse and their new daughter-in-law, into the family this past September
As for future plans, Rick says they want to expand their market presence by growing the Horizon Seeds brand, particularly into Canada’s western provinces. Rick and Angela both say it’s the unique lifestyle and the opportunities the industry provides their family that continues drawing them to agriculture.
“We couldn’t be happier that we got to raise our kids here,” says Rick. “We get a huge amount of satisfaction from growing and providing a premium product.”