Planting Seeds of Expansion

Polansky Seed Grows Presence in Existing Markets While Looking to New Opportunities

Because it takes eight to 10 man hours to completely clean the seed cleaning equipment between grains, the Polansky Seed plant focuses on cleaning one type of grain at a time. Oats was being run through the cleaner on this January day. The equipment can clean a semi-load of grain an hour. Known in the industry for qualified certified seed for traditional crops, in recent years the company has branched out into cover crop production and food-grade grains like popcorn. — Telescope Photo By Deb Hadachek

By Deb Hadachek Telescope News
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Sometimes something old becomes cutting edge. And one local longtime business has opened up a brand new market for itself by recognizing the potential in lessons of the past.

That’s the case for the Polansky Seed, Inc. line of cover crop seed, which was shipped to six states in 2019.

“Cover crops have become as important to our businesses as wheat seed,” says Brett Grauerholz, operations manager for the 78-year-old business owned by three generations of the Polansky family in Belleville.

That’s no small piece. In 2015 Polansky erected a multi-million, six-story tall state-of-the-art seed cleaning facility on the east edge of Belleville. The company has always been known for qualified certified seed wheat it supplies to growers across the Midwest. But the fully automated seed cleaning facility has allowed the business to expand into different markets like cover crops and food-grade seed cleaning. Those markets range from milo for the pet food industry to specialty popcorn produced in the area.

“Seed cleaned in Belleville hit all 48 contiguous states this year,” says Grauerholz.

Wholesale distribution of production crops like wheat, soybeans, grain sorghum and corn are Polansky’s bread-andbutter. But the company continues to research new markets, new crops, and new ways to capitalize on the advantages of its location dead center in the breadbasket of the nation.

“Three to four years ago the cover crop business got really, really big for us,” Grauerholz says. “It was a shift in the Polansky Seed business outlook. Cover crops have been around for a long time, but there’s not a ton of businesses like us that focus on providing seed for producers.”

Rise Of Cover Crops

The practice of planting cover crops is nothing new. Generations ago, before fertilizer Because it takes eight to 10 man hours to completely clean the seed cleaning equipment between grains, the Polansky Seed plant focuses on cleaning one type of grain at a time. Oats was being run through the cleaner on this January day. The equipment can clean a semi-load of grain an hour. Known in the industry for qualified certified seed for traditional crops, in recent years the company has branched out into cover crop production and food-grade grains like popcorn. — Telescope Photo By Deb Hadachek and chemicals to control weeds were readily available, farmers rotated non-marketable grains, clovers and legumes into their fields to control weeds, stop erosion and add nitrogen to the soil.

“More and more people looking at cover crops again,” says Grauerholz. “Fertilizer is getting expensive, and the cost of chemicals and spraying continues to rise. If farmers can eliminate some of that cost and be beneficial to soil at the same time … people are trying cover crops on a small scale and rapidly going to large scale applications.” Grauerholz said that spraying a crop for weeds costs $40 to $50 per acre per application, and some varieties of weeds have become resistant to commonly used chemicals.

“If a farmer can save even one spray application, that’s a lot of money,” he said.

Grauerholz credits retired Polansky general manager Mike Baxa to help direct the vision of the company to market cover crops to suppress weeds in fields.

Cover crops include a range of vegetation like radishes, turnips, oats, forage peas, barley, and triticale. Most are grown in Kansas and cleaned in Belleville.

Incorporating cover crops into an operation is a long-term commitment for farmers that won’t show immediate results, he said. It may take three or four years for a producer to notice the change in soil health, he said, and five years or more to record an increase in yields and decrease in fertilizer use.

Polansky keeps 200 different varieties of cover crops in the warehouse, and lists eight pre-made blends in its 2020 catalog. The company has the ability to do a 1,000 pound specialty blend for one customer and a 59,000 pound semiload specialty blend for another.

“Some people seed with an airplane, which requires a different seeding rate,” Grauerholz says. “Farmers will use a different blend following milo, before corn, or if they’re a heavy wheat farmer, they want yet a different blend.”

Private Label Wheat

What Polanskys has made a value-added market for local producers is the opportunity to grow exclusive-label seed wheat. The company released the Paradise variety in 2018 and Rock Star in 2019. For many years Polansky was the exclusive distributor of a wheat variety called Dominator.

“All our exclusive wheat is grown in Republic County or around the Fairbury and Hebron areas,” Grauerholz says. “We work with breeders to choose lines we want, we grow it here, and it is 100 percent locally grown.”

“Like Dominator, which was a huge hit years ago, Paradise is so big that people who farm hours west of Oklahoma City drive to Belleville to get semi-loads to take back to their farms.”

Polansky distributes other varieties of wheat, but Grauerholz says there’s something special about being able to promote your own brand.

“The advantage to own a variety is that we can control the quality,” he says. “We can maintain the purity of original seed without changes from generation to generation.”

“Growing wheat is a very meticulous process,” he adds. “There’s multiple years involved before it becomes available as certified seed to the producer: to grow varieties from breeder to Foundation to registered to certified.”

“What we’re selling now took four or five years to develop.”

The Polansky varieties are primarily marketed in the Midwest in a radius 300 air miles from Belleville. The varieties feature traits that combine drought and scab resistance, color and yield potential for this environment, Grauerholz says.

“Conditions can be so different from one place to another,” he said. “Conditions are completely different in Western Republic County from Eastern Republic County.”

Polansky seed owner Adrian Polansky and Adam Polansky operate farms in Republic County where seed is grown, and contract land from private growers to produce seed wheat. The business, started on John Polansky’s farm east of Belleville in 1941, has conducted field trials of varieties for more than 60 years, Grauerholz says.

He said that the company’s customers benefit because all of the 16 fulltime and three part-time employees come from agriculture backgrounds or are still involved in ag production. Polansky also has a network of 400 dealers across the Midwest.

“I grow these varieties on my own farm, and it makes me better able to discuss the successes and failures with other producers,” he says.

While low market prices have reduced the number of acres producers plant to wheat, Grauerholz said the company has seen a resurgence in wheat seed sales in the last year.

“Over the last two to three years you would be shocked at how much wheat seed we’re shipping into Nebraska to be put back into rotation because of weed control issues,” Grauerholz says.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, wheat production in Kansas grew to 338 million bushels in 2019, compared to 227 million bushels in 2018. Acres devoted to wheat in Kansas declined from 7.3 million in 2018 to 6.5 million.

Return On Investment

The new Polansky seed cleaning plant reflects the industry changes as today’s ag producers lean more and more on technology to provide data to hone their return on investment. Grauerholz says the plant “is the most scientific” in the Midwest. The cleaning process is regulated by a computer-directed system that can clean and sort a semi load of high-quality seed every hour. The system can tell a producer how many seeds are in each pound, which matters as farmers try to control costs.

Cameras in the cleaner determine if a single grain is off-color or irregular in shape and eliminate it from the batch with a puff of air. A multi-tier sifting system sorts larger seeds from smaller seeds. In all, grain passes through nine steps of cleaning before it’s ready to head to the field.

In years of drought or disease, the company can still make high quality seed available to customers, but fewer seeds make the cut, Grauerholz says. The grains cleaned out in the process are seed for feed or sold.

“There’s no waste,” Grauerholz said

Adam Polansky, the third generation of the Polansky Seed family oversees plant operations assisted by Harlan Reed. The seed-cleaning process can be operated by a single person, from moving grain from storage into the facility through bagging the clean grain and stacking it on pallets.

The company coordinates what grains and seeds are cleaned at certain times, because it takes 8 to 10 man hours to completely remove all traces of the previous seed to start a new variety, Grauerholz says.

“Ours is truly a 100 percent local business,” he says. “We can grow seed here, clean it here, package it here and ship it from Belleville, which saves huge transportation costs when you’re centrally located in the US.”

Grauerholz said that in future years Polansky hopes to expand into more food-grade markets, especially peas, because it’s a crop that can be grown locally.

“Like a lot of businesses, our number one concern is finding employees,” he says. The company hires a variety of staff skilled in disciplines from sales and marketing and agronomy to truck drivers and spray rig operators. The business also supports a number of outside ag businesses needed to grow crops in the region

“This is an exciting time to be involved with agriculture and a family-owned business in rural America,” he says. “But you’ve got to think outside the box, because agriculture has never stayed in one path.”

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