OSAGE | On Wednesday, Sept. 13, the Biotech Spotlight Series hosted by IowaBio visited Valent BioSciences Corporation in Osage. With 50 facilities across the state and more than 25,000 people working in the biosciences industry in those facilities, bioscience and biotechnology in Iowa continues to grow.
“It can be difficult to find staff,” Bill Zimmerlee, plant manager, said. “With unemployment rates in the area being so low, it’s sometimes a real challenge to find new employees.”
A subsidiary of Sumitomo Chemical Company, Valent is the largest dedicated bio-rational product facility in the world. Located in Osage because of the availability of the locally grown raw materials needed in the fermentation process, such as soybeans and corn, the facility created 89 permanent jobs within the community. Because the resources come from local producers, Valent funnels money back into the local economy with every purchase.
In addition, the products made at Valent are taken across the street to A-Z drying and dried there before being shipped to other Sumitomo companies for distribution. Having the largest dedicated fermentation capacity for bio-rational agricultural products, Valent began its first fermentation in August of 2014.
“Bio-rational products are derived from naturally occurring bacteria,” Zimmerlee said. “This bacteria, called Bacillus Thuringiensis, is naturally incurring in the soil.”
Commonly used as a biological pesticide, Valent also creates bio-rational products which enhance yield and uniformity of yield and helps protect potential crops from injury while trying to manage pesticide residue levels.
Trying to win the war against mosquitoes was one of the slogans on the slide show presented to those who took part in the spotlight series tour.
“Many tours are for customers of our products,” said Zimmerlee. “We deliver to 95 different countries and what we want our customers to understand is our dedication to the quality of our products and to the maintenance of our facility. We want them to see that we make sure that our bacteria is the only one growing in the products.”
The IowaBio sponsored tour drew interest from individuals from all professions from chamber of commerce directors to economic developers, in addition to chemists, architects and members of the agricultural sales community. For some, their interest was on the construction design of the facility itself and how it functions, while others were more focused on aspects of the economy and job creation.
“We did nothing special to get ready for the tour,” Zimmerlee said. “Part of our culture here is to keep our facility showroom ready so when people come to the plant, it is always as clean and maintained as it was today. One of our biggest challenges is making sure we don’t have contamination.”
With that in mind, strict order and safety practices are in place inside the facility. They grow their own insect specimens, on site, in order to conduct product testing so each batch that goes out has the same potency and works the same way as the batch before.
Using a 200-plus hour fermentation process and sterile air filters, the staff at Valent work diligently to keep the organisms happy and growing. Aside from in-house product testing practices, the products are also field tested to ensure they are killing the mosquitos and their larva as they are intended to do. In addition to treating crops, valent products are used to treat forestry areas and waterways.