Research & Learning Center Shows Farmers What Goes into a Legacy Seed
By Mike Sankey | February 17, 2022
When we decided we needed a home base for our alfalfa breeding team, we didn’t want to create just another research site.
Instead, we envisioned a place where research could be conducted for all of our crops, while also giving farmers a behind-the-scenes look into what goes into a Legacy Seed variety.
So in 2018, we opened the Research and Learning Center (RLC) in Waupaca, Wisconsin. Surrounded by 25 acres of research plots, the 7,000-square-foot RLC contains two greenhouses, a lab and a shop area.
In addition to the research led by the alfalfa breeding team, we brought on Mike Sankey to run the RLC and lead the charge for other crop research, starting with corn silage.
Solving Farmer Problems Through Research
Mike Sankey didn’t grow up on a farm, but the Wisconsin native spent every spare minute helping out on relatives’ farms and knew he wanted to be in the industry. While earning his bachelor’s in ag business, a few internship experiences showed him that he loved working outdoors with crops and helping farmers solve problems. He began his career in ag retail before joining Legacy Seeds as the center’s Research Agronomist in April 2021.
“Basically what I do is, whenever there are issues or a farmer is in a situation and he doesn’t know what the next best step is, I help them figure out how to move forward,” he says.
One of his primary roles at the RLC is conducting test plots for corn and soybeans. The site has a nice, uniform soil type, and Mike handles all the variables of the test plots himself, such as planting and spraying. This level of consistency and control ensures he’s collecting valuable data from the corn hybrids and soybean varieties tested.
Behind-the-Scenes Look into New Seed Products
Mike is also in charge of making the RLC a one-stop shop for farmers to learn about Legacy Seeds’ different crop varieties. The RLC hosts grower education meetings, seed kickoff events, and plot tours. Mike says farmers are welcome to stop by anytime to take a look at the products.
“Some of the first chances a farmer can see a product is when they plant it themselves,” Mike says. “But at the RLC, they can come out mid-season the year before and get a good look at the varieties coming out for next year before they take that risk on their own.”
The accessibility of the RLC is particularly advantageous for alfalfa growers, who can see the research that takes place in the winter in the greenhouses, then come back in the summer to view the test plots.
“Where else can you go to see small plot research on alfalfa?” Mike asks. “There’s no other place to look at alfalfa planted side-by-side on a uniform basis that’s open to the public.”
He encourages any farmer — whether they’re new to Legacy Seeds or have been a loyal customer — to visit the RLC.
“We’re more than willing to show you what we have going on, talk about our products and give you the ‘whys’ behind what we’re doing before we talk dollars and cents,” Mike says.
Research on Best Silage Leads to Ration Choice
While Mike plans to do fertilizer and chemical trials on corn and soybeans in the future, his main research focus at the moment is Ration ChoiceⓇ, a line of corn hybrids that perform well for silage.
“Farmers know that different corn varieties feed better than others, but more times than not they’re the ones that have to figure all that out,” Mike says. “So we’re going through our testing process, we’re figuring out what varieties potentially would feed better for their specific situation.”
Just last year the RLC team collected over 800 silage samples, vacuum-sealed and sent to the lab for evaluation.
Ration Choice is already seeing great success. Egan Family Dairy of Omro, Wisconsin, won the Grand Champion title in the standard corn silage with a Ration Choice hybrid at the 2021 World Dairy Expo’s World Forage Analysis Superbowl. And Mike adds there were a lot of Ration Choice finalists in all of the corn silage categories.
“We’re doing this for farmers,” he says. “If it doesn’t work on their operation in the long term, it won’t work for us. So we’re doing a lot of this legwork upfront to find a product that best suits them right away.”