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Sims Brothers, Inc.

Developing a new market for sericea lespedeza

Sims Brothers, Inc.
Union Springs, AL • 334-738-2619

Key Personnel

• Thomas Sims, President

• Robbins Sims, Vice President

• Cynthia Smithart, Sec./Treasurer

• Sherlene Sims, Sales Company Profile

• Family farm received a U.S. land grant issued in 1858.

• Warm season forage seed production including bahiagrass.

• Exclusive distributor of certified AU Grazer sericea lespedeza seed.

• Pelleted sericea lespedeza leaf forage.

Sims Brothers Inc. is a family-owned farm and seed company thirty miles southeast of Montgomery, AL. The family’s farming roots go back to 1858 when Tom and Robbin Sims and Cynthia Smithart’s great, great grandfather moved to the area and bought a small tract of land from the U.S. General Land office. A copy of that deed is on display in the farm’s small office building on the family’s homestead.

The weathered clay soil in that area lacks the high levels of native nutrients contained in the dark, prairie soils of the Midwest.

Successive generations of the family have looked for ways to improve the prospects of their farm which – like so many others – often operated near the margins of profitability.

A major advancement came in the early 1930’s when the farmers began to realize the potential of legumes as a cost-effective source of forage and a way to improve the land.

During this time, the USDA Land Utilization Project at Tuskegee, AL, and other institutions were developing improved legume varieties which were sold exclusively as certified seed.

First for their own use, the Sims family began cleaning seed. Gradually, their seed cleaning efforts were recognized by neighboring farmers and a seed cleaning business emerged.

The motto of their burgeoning seed business was and remains, “Plant a paying crop, and leave the land better.”

The Age of Legumes

As legumes come into vogue as a lowcost means to improve soil fertility, new various red, white, and other clover varieties were developed, primarily by public institutions. These improved seeds were sold as certified, branded varieties.

One of the crops studied for development was sericea lespedeza (see sidebar).

“There are many kinds of tannins in forages. Some of them can cause problems in livestock, but not as bad as many people think,” says Jorge A. Mosjidis, Ph.D., agronomy professor at Auburn University, Auburn, AL (MOSJIJA@

“Tannins are a major factor in reducing ruminant bloating as well as reducing urea and methane in animal waste. In the soil they slow down decomposition of organic matter,” Mosjidis explains.

The crop does have some disadvantages which earned it a poor reputation because it matures quickly and its performance declines rapidly if overgrazed. In 1997 Auburn University released AU Grazer™ sericea lespedeza and granted exclusive right to Sims Brothers, Inc. to produce and market certified AU Grazer seed. This variety is grazing tolerant.

There was not significant money for the crop people to fund lespedeza research and there was even less research support for the plant and animal scientists to study lespedeza for its feeding value.

“Nonetheless, there were a few of us including Drs. Thomas Terrill at Fort Valley State Univ., Fort Valley, Georgia; James Miller at LSU (Louisiana), and animal research scientist Joan Burke with the USDA-ARS (Arkansas) who believed in sericea lespedeza,” Mosjidis says.

“We did enough work to keep our hopes alive and went with our beliefs and did not give up because we could see its benefits for animals, for the soil, and for the environment. Then we received a grant from the USDA- Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program that gave us the monetary support needed to conduct research.”

In 2004, they published their research results which supported the value of sericea lespedeza.

“There was a growing interest among small farmers in the crop’s value,” says Tom Sims. “We cooperated with Dr. Mosjidis’ research and became convinced of its value. We see it as a most dependable forage crop, but an undependable seed crop that give its highest seed yield in dry yields.”

A respectable sericea lespedeza seedyield would be 200-400 pounds per acre, Sims says.

In 2005 Auburn University released AU Grazer sericea lespedeza and granted exclusive right to Sims Brothers, Inc. to produce and market certified AU Grazer seed.

Lespedeza Leaf Pellets

In order for sericea lespedeza to gain widespread acceptance for its pharmacological benefits by sheep and goat owners, it must be economical to distribute, in a form that is easily handled, and contain a sufficiently concentrated tannin content to be effective.

Fresh forage is of value only to those who have access to pasture. Lespedeza hay is one option, but hay is awkward to transport. Lespedeza leaves have the plant’s highest concentration of condensed tannins, can be pelleted and blended into feed rations, but have no ready means for harvest.

“We came up with the idea of modifying a combine to thresh lespedeza hay,” Tom recalls. “Instead of blowing the leaves out the back, we would turn the combine inside out and collect the leaves.”

The Sims brothers sat down with a local machinist, Lamar Hodge, to develop a plan to convert a John Deere combine into a leaf harvester.

First, the main fan was removed. Then internal modifications were made and two blowers were added to draw the leaves out of the combine and blow them into a trailing cotton buggy.

To harvest the leaves, the crop is swathed and allowed to dry as though it would be baled for hay. Equipped with a standard pick-up head, the dry lespedeza is harvested and the stems are returned to the ground.

“It took a bit of fine tuning to get everything to work together just right, but Tom and Lamar’s concept works well,” Robbins says. “It appears we will be able to harvest about 3,000 pounds of pure leaves per acre per year.”

The harvested leaves are run through a hammer mill before being pelleted and bagged for distribution to customers and retail feed stores.

The pelleted leaves have been well received by goat and sheep owners. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly the San Diego Wild Animal Park) has evaluated feeding Sims’ pellets to some exotic animals including camels and a llama with a satisfactory reduction of barber pole worms.

The Alabama Extension Service says barber pole worms are almost impossible to totally eradicate.

Sims Brothers was granted the sole license to produce and market sericea lespedeza pellets and/or feed as a parasite control supplement under Patent number 7,615,240 owned by Auburn University in conjunction with Fort Valley State University, LSU and the USDA.

“Thanks to the unwavering determination of a few people like Dr. Mosjidis who never failed to believe there is value in sericea lespedeza, we have found a niche market that will reward their confidence,” the Sims brothers say. “After 40 years of development, we are optimistic that this crop is about to become an overnight success.”

“Many of the problems farmers associate with sericea lespedeza should actually be blamed on mis-management by growers.”

Professor Jorge A. Mosjidis, Ph.D. Auburn University, Auburn, AL

Sericea Lespedeza

Sericea lespedeza – aka Chinese lespedeza (first recognized as Lespedeza sericea, then later as Lespedeza cuneata) – is a warm season, small leaf, perennial legume native to eastern Asia. It grows three to six feet tall.

It was first planted in the United States in 1896 by the North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station. In 1924, serica lespedeza seed from Japan was planted at the USDA Experiment farm near Arlington, VA.

It was originally valued for erosion control, livestock forage, and wildlife cover when it was introduced. More recently, however, it has become an unwanted species in some ecosystems such as native grasslands in the Plains states. In 2001, Kansas declared sericea lespedeza an invasive noxious weed.

Sericea has a deep tap root allowing it to out-compete native plants for water and nutrients, especially in times of drought. Increasing its competitiveness, sericea lespedeza seeds can remain viable for 20 years or longer.

Pharmaceutical Benefits

Barber pole worm (Haemonchus contortus) is an intestinal parasite common in sheep, goats, and other mono-gastric animals. This pest has developed resistance to nearly all commercial de-wormer medications.

An alternative treatment for barber pole worm is found in the anthelmintic properties of condensedtannins contained in forage crops.

While hydrolyzable tannins in other crops can have a toxic effect on animals, the condensed tannins contained in sericea lespedeza have been proven in university tests to effectively reduce barber pole worm fecal eggs counts by 80%.