Is Sainfoin Right for You?
Maybe you’ve seen or heard the claims – better than alfalfa almost everywhere, a 200 RFV from bud to bloom, easy to establish, more palatable. These characteristics, and more, are being claimed this spring by marketers of a legume called sainfoin. Sounds great, doesn’t it, but what’s the rest of the story. Sainfoin, which has been nicknamed ‘the poor man’s alfalfa’, has several good characteristics. Its main advantage is its bloat-free characteristic, making it grazing-friendly. It also tolerates low phosphorus and high pH soils well, but it is intolerant of acidity or salinity. It produces very palatable hay or grazing, and compared to alfalfa, forage quality declines less rapidly as the plant matures.
However, in almost all areas where alfalfa is well-adapted, sainfoin does not yield as well. It begins spring growth very fast, frequently out-yielding alfalfa at first harvest, but sainfoin regrows very slowly. Nitrogen fixation also is a problem for sainfoin, even when properly inoculated with the right kind of bacteria. As a result, nitrogen fertilizer often is needed to maintain productivity. Even then, sainfoin is susceptible to root and crown rot diseases that can quickly shorten stand life. In my opinion, sainfoin is most suitable for areas that usually get only one hay cutting per year, especially if soils are calcareous.
You also might find it useful in some dryland grazing situations.
For most other uses, though, alfalfa and other traditional forages will outperform sainfoin.
[March 22nd, 2007]
Dr. Bruce Anderson, Professor of Agronomy
Agronomy & Horticulture, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Lincoln, NE