SUTHERLIN, Ore. — After about four decades of being in the cattle business, Tor-S Ranch now has hemp growing on some of its bottom land.
The diversification came after a couple years of planning sessions by Tor-S owners Kurt and Veronica Spencer and their grown children. They considered wine grapes, hazelnuts and blueberries, but finally agreed on planting hemp.
Son Ron Spencer formed a new company, BioSync Industries, and planted 80 acres of hemp last June on ground that had been summer pasture for cattle. Half of the acreage is bottom ground along Calapooya Creek west of Sutherlin and the other acreage is also bottom ground, but along the South Umpqua River near Days Creek, Ore.
“We had some really good ground that we knew we weren’t utilizing properly,” said 62-year-old Kurt Spencer, who has been in the livestock business all of his adult life and now owns a multi-state cattle operation. “We had family planning sessions and Ron recognized the opportunity with hemp.
“It was not a matter of convincing me, it was a matter of matching the resource to a crop opportunity and to the passion of the operators,” he explained.
Ron Spencer is the owner of BioSync and is getting help with the operation from brother-in-law Jesse Dean and close friend Carlos Rivas.
Spencer, 34, is a 2009 University of Oregon graduate who earned an architecture degree. He returned to the family’s ranch business six years ago and has been tracking the hemp industry for the past four years.
“I had to prove to both my father and myself that this is an industry that is worth investing in,” he said. “I’ve got some nerdy agriculture concepts. My thought was to bring hemp in as a rotational crop with the cattle. We now have cattle grazing back on the ground that we had the hemp on, putting manure back in the soil.
“We’re testing to see if this is improving the quality of the soil, if we’re being more efficient with our land use,” he added. “It should improve the soil over time. It’s a really, really great biological relationship.”
The two 40-acre parcels were planted to hemp last June after cattle were taken off the pasture. The hemp flowers were harvested in October.
The acreage was overseeded with rye grass in early November and cattle were turned out to graze for a month or so earlier this year. With the cattle now off, the spring grass will grow and be harvested for forage in May before another planting of hemp is done in June.
Kurt Spencer said his passion will continue to be cattle, but he’s available to consult with his son, who is leasing the ground from the Tor-S Ranch to grow hemp.
“I knew they had done their research on the crop and that it was strictly for medicine,” Kurt Spencer said, adding that he had used hemp’s CBD oil a few times on a sore shoulder and that the shoulder had felt better a few days later. “I would not have supported it if there was the chance of substance abuse.”
Ron Spencer said BioSync’s hemp crop made a profit in its first year, but the process was an “adventure with anxiety.” He added the hemp marketplace is evolving and that it “takes effort to find good, reliable pipelines to the marketplace.”
“It’s a new industry and we’re all trying to solve problems, but we’re working together to do so,” he said. “I’m very lucky to have the support I’m getting from the family and close friends. I do miss working with the cattle. But I get back to help with them every once in a while and that’s fun.”