Alternative produces for farmers with limited acreage are of special interest to the 1890 institutions with limited resource, socially disadvantaged and small-scale farming clientele. Sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata) is a warm season, non-bloating, perennial legume rich in condensed tannins which grows well on poor quality soils with relative low inputs. Beyond its nutritional value as a forage, SL also helps control parasites in small ruminants and has reduced mastitis in dairy animals and house flies from feces, all thought to be due to the specialized CT in this plant. Sericea lespedeza also benefits the environment through nitrogen production and soil building and reducing methane from animals consuming it. As more information becomes available about SL bioactivity, the market for SL dried products (hay, pellets) that can be shipped to areas where it does not readily grow and to people who do not have the resource to grow it has increased dramatically, offering growers a new opportunity.
However, research and educational materials for beginners related to production and processing methods and their effect on product quality and marketability, and the economic feasibility of different production and marketing strategies is not readily available.
In this project we will work directly with small-scale and limited-resource farmers at several locations in the southeastern United States who have not previously grown SL to establish, manage, process, and market SL as a nutraceutical hay using best management practices developed from survey information collected from current SL producers. Data on soil fertility before and after the study will be collected at each participating farm, as well as yield, nutritional quality, and anti-parasitic bioactivity of SL hay produced. Economics of SL establishment, management, and processing as hay will be evaluated for each farm, as well as profitability of direct marketing of SL hay or contract growing hay for sale in bulk to existing feed stores.
This proposal intends to conduct this type of research in collaboration with farmers and feed store owners in at least three Southeastern states (Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina) to increase the number of profitable SL growers, and support an emerging agricultural industry of nutraceutical feed production and marketing. The research will then be used to develop educational materials for online and face to face training of new SL growers through a project website, field days and producer and county agent workshops. During the project, a SL producers’ network will be developed to facilitate information exchange and continued cooperation beyond the period of the proposal.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Develop sustainable lespedeza production strategies for small and limited-resource producers in the Southeast.
- Assess nutritional and anti-parasitic (nutraceutical) properties of dried sericea lespedeza products (hay) as a marketing strategy.
- Assess economic feasibility of direct and indirect marketing of lespedeza hay as a nutraceutical forage.
- Communicate research findings and best practices to producers through workshops, collateral educational material, and establishment of a formal lespedeza producers’ network.