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Sainfoin’s forage potential tested

Trials at the Brandon Research and Development Centre aim to see how 
the crop will measure up in a second-cut system compared to alfalfa

Does sainfoin have the potential to be a productive second-cut system, comparable to alfalfa? Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) researchers intend to find out.

At the Brandon Research and Development Centre they have seeded two varieties of sainfoin, Melrose and AC Mountainview, in both pure stands and mixed with grasses.

Mae Elsinger, an AAFC range management biologist says they’re looking at a variety of treatments to find the most productive options.

“We have all kinds of things that we are investigating with these sainfoin lots,” she said. “We are trying a new variety and comparing it to an old variety and trying different seeding rates. We are also trying different mixtures, like 30 per cent grass, 70 per cent sainfoin, and 70 per cent grass, 30 per cent sainfoin and a 50/50 mix.”

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A perennial forage legume, sainfoin can grow to a height of three feet or more and is usually taller than alfalfa.

The stems are hollow and the leaves are divided into a large number of leaflets, similar to vetch. It has a number of positive attributes but also some drawbacks.

“We are interested in sainfoin because it is a non-bloat legume, however, we know from the past that it seems to go out of the stand under our normal management practices,” Elsinger said.

The sainfoin plots were planted in May 2015 and fertilized with ammonium sulphate in May 2016.

The project is funded through the Canada’s Beef Science Cluster, a partnership between AAFC and the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and also involves collaboration with the University of Manitoba and the University of Saskatchewan, that are interested in the potential of making sainfoin a two-cut system.

“For the purposes of this project we are working with the University of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and they are interested in cutting at the 50 per cent bloom stage, which was very early this year in the second week of June,” Elsinger said, adding August 15 is the target for second cut.

Sainfoin matures early and gives particularly good forage yields under a one-cut system but does have a slower recovery than alfalfa and often yields less when grazed or cut twice or more in a season.

Alfalfa has been included at the BRDC site for comparison.

“It seems to me that the sainfoin flowers a lot earlier than alfalfa. Maybe it has better potential for a second-cut system, hard to say. We are hoping to collect some data on that from this study,” Elsinger said.

Prairie forages

AAFC researchers also have three other research projects growing at the same site, looking at the production potential of native mixtures and native varieties of grasses and legumes.

“We have cicer milk vetch planted as a comparison to the other milk vetches, some native milk vetches like slender milk vetch, Canadian and American milk vetch,” Elsinger said.

The milk vetch was planted in June of 2016 along with pure stands and mixtures of western wheatgrass, bluebunch wheatgrass, nodding bromegrass, little bluestem, side-oats gramagrass, white and purple prairie clover.

“We are testing out purple prairie clover. It is a very expensive seed but it may be valuable as a non-bloat legume,” Elsinger said. “It is a native legume so it would be adapted to our environmental conditions. It might also be adaptable if we see any effects of climate change and it may even have medicinal properties that may reduce E. coli in the digestive track, which is of interest in regards to the food security of beef.”

AAFC researchers will be focusing on measuring the production of the varieties and the University of Manitoba will be looking at digestibility.

Mae Elsinger, range management biologist with AAFC is conducting forage research at the Brandon Research and Development Centre.

Mae Elsinger, range management biologist with AAFC is conducting forage research at the Brandon Research and Development Centre.
photo: Jennifer Paige

About the author


Jennifer Paige

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.



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