Home » Horticulture » Forage beans

Forage beans

Forage beans are a grain legume agricultural fodder crop.

Economic importance

Fodder beans are used in agriculture for fodder purposes. They are distinguished by their fodder value. Seeds are used for the production of compound feed, green mass – for the preparation of silage usually with corn. Flour and steamed beans are used for fodder purposes.

Coarse-seeded beans in the state of green maturity may be used for food purposes and canning.

The chemical composition: protein – 23% in terms of dry matter, fat – 2.0%, carbohydrates – 55%, minerals – 3.1%. 1 kg of seeds corresponds to 1.29 fodder units and contains 250 g of digestible protein.

Sometimes bean flour is mixed with wheat flour to increase the nutritional value.

Bean straw exceeds oat straw in protein content (14%) and fat content, but is coarser, so before feeding it is crushed. It is also used as an organic fertilizer.

Green mass, mowed during flowering, can be used for green fodder or making silage, haylage, hay. The chemical composition: moisture – 76%, protein – 3.6%, fat – 0.8%, fiber – 7.0%, minerals – 1.4% of the crude weight. 1 kg of green fodder corresponds to 0.16 fodder units and 24 g of protein.

Honey-bearing plant. Gathering of honey reaches 20-25 kg per 1 ha.

At present fodder beans are used as a green fertilizer in stand-alone or mixed crops. In humid subtropical conditions, they are grown for this purpose in winter, sown in autumn after the main crop is harvested, and plowed in spring.

The advantage of beans over other grain legumes is their resistance to lodging and the possibility of growing them as a row crop. They are distinguished by their high nitrogen-fixing ability: they accumulate 70-250 kg/ha of nitrogen during the growing season.

History of the crop

Forage beans are an ancient agricultural crop. Even 2 thousand years B.C. they were grown in the south of Europe (Ancient Greece and Rome) and the north of Africa (Ancient Egypt) for food and fodder purposes. According to P.M. Zhukovsky, fodder beans come from the Mediterranean, so they require moisture and heat during the ripening period.

On the territory of modern Russia, the crop began to be cultivated in the 6th-8th centuries.

Cultivation areas

In the USSR the area of crops was about 20 thousand hectares. In the world – about 2-5 million hectares or 1.6% of the area occupied by leguminous crops.

In Russia, fodder beans are cultivated mainly in areas with sufficient moisture and a long growing season, primarily in the Non-Black Soil Zone, as well as in Dagestan and Western Siberia. The northern border of cultivation runs along 65°N. In the former Soviet Union, they are grown in Belarus, the Baltic states, the right bank of Ukraine, and in Transcaucasia. In the world the main sowings are concentrated in the Mediterranean countries, Western Europe, Egypt and Brazil. Its gross seed yield is 3.4 mln. tons or 1.5% of grain legume seed yield. The average yield is 1.5 t/ha.

At present there are no statistics on this crop in Russia. It is supposed to be planted on an area of 10 thousand ha.

Forage beans are of interest because they can be cultivated on the heavy clay and podzolic soils of northwestern Russia.


Forage beans are a high-yielding crop. During the Soviet period, a maximum yield of 6.29 t/ha was obtained in Estonia. In areas with favorable conditions for their cultivation, forage bean yields are higher than those of other leguminous crops. For comparison, according to the Research Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (Ukraine) the yield under the same conditions:

fodder bean seed was 2.83 t/ha, straw 3.12 t/ha, which corresponds to 36.5 fodder units and 810 kg/ha of protein;
pea seeds – 1.71 t/ha, straw 3.04 t/ha, corresponding to 20.2 fodder units and 300 kg/ha of protein;
beans seeds – 1.44 t/ha, straw 2.04 t/ha, which corresponds to 16.3 fodder units and 190 kg/ha of protein;
fodder lupine seeds – 0.85 t/ha, straw 2.95 t/ha, which corresponds to 11.7 fodder units and 270 kg/ha of protein.
The ratio of straw to seeds in beans is about 1:1, while in other legumes it varies from 1.5 to 3.5:1, which is an indicator of a high-yielding crop of the intensive type.

Yield of green mass of fodder beans is 25-50 t/ha, dry mass – 10 t/ha. But it strongly depends on the amount of precipitation during the growing season.

Seed yield under favorable conditions is 2.1-5 t/ha.

Botanical description

Forage bean (Faba vulgaris Moensh vicia faba L.) is an annual legume plant. It is 30-150 cm tall.

The root system is taprooted, well developed, deeply penetrating into the soil. Large active nodules are formed on the roots.

The stem is tetrahedral, strong, straight, not lazy, hollow inside, foliage varies from 30 to 200 leaves. Height varies from 50 cm to 2 m. Branching is weak at the base, becoming stronger with thinned crops.

Leaves are pairs-petioled, glabrous, glaucous-green, fleshy, with large leafstalks and a point on the tip. Leaves are unipartite in the lower part of the stem, bipartite in the middle, and 3- and 4-partite in the upper part.

Flowers in short racemes, one raceme having from 2 to 12 flowers, placed in leaf nodes along stem. They are white, less often pinkish with a black spot on the wings. Flowering is early, beginning a month after sprouts appear and lasting until lower beans are poured; in wet summers it lasts until fall frosts.

Fruits are large, up to 30 cm long, velvety beans with 3-6 grains, becoming brown or black at maturity.

Seeds vary in size (0.7-3 cm in length), yellow, green, black-violet or brown.


Depending on the size of the seeds are subdivided into:

  • small-seeded (v. minor Beok) – weight of 1000 seeds 200-450 g, seeds rolled, plants are tall, medium and late maturity from 105 to 140 days, the yield is high, used for forage purposes;
  • medium-seeded (v. eguina Pers.) – weight of 1000 seeds 500-700 g, seeds are flat-oval, medium and late maturing from 110 to 140 days, plant height from 70 to 200 cm, the fruits are set high, high yield, used for forage purposes;
  • coarse-seeded (v. major Harz.) – 1000-seed weight 800-2500 g, seeds flat, early maturing 95 to 105 days, plant height 50 to 100 cm, bean attachment is low, so mechanized harvesting is difficult; cultivated mainly as a vegetable crop.

Biological features

Temperature requirements

The heat requirements of forage beans are low. Seeds begin to germinate at 3-4°C, the optimum temperature for the emergence of uniform sprouts is 5-6°C. Sprouts survive short frosts as low as -4 … -6°C.

Average temperatures for growth and development are 15-20°C. Overwintering forms may develop at lower temperatures. High temperatures above 30°C inhibit growth, particularly during flowering. Autumn frosts are a danger during the extended ripening of fruits.

Moisture requirements

Forage beans have higher requirements for moisture, especially during the period from seedlings to full bloom. Transpiration coefficient is 800.

During droughts, leaves wither and fall off, resulting in a dramatic decrease in yield.

Excess moisture is also unfavorable: grain yield decreases as the number of fertilized flowers decreases and disease and pest damage increases.

Light requirements

Fodder beans belong to the long day plants.

Soil requirements

They grow well in medium-consolidated moisture-laden loamy and well-moistened loamy-sandy soils with high organic matter content, as well as in dried peatlands. Neutral or slightly acidic reaction (pH 6-7) is optimal. Liming is recommended if acidity is less than 6. Does not tolerate soil salinity.

Tests on variety plots showed a yield on black earth 1,2 times more than on sod-podzolic soils and 1,4 times more than on gray forest soils.

Have the ability to assimilate hard-soluble phosphates.


The vegetation period is 95-140 days.

Cross-pollination or self-pollination.

Growth and development phases:

  • sprouting;
  • budding;
  • flowering;
  • ripening.

Crop rotation

In crop rotations, fodder beans are placed after winter cereals following fertilized seeded fallow or green-manure fallow, and row crops, as well as after spring wheat and barley.

When cultivated for silage (as a single crop or in a mixture with corn) it may be grown as a fallow-occupied crop under winter cereals.

In crop rotations fodder beans are good predecessors of most field crops.

Fertilizer system

Responsive to organic and mineral fertilizers on any soil, even chernozems. Organic fertilizers are recommended to apply under the predecessor, but are also allowed directly under the main tillage in autumn. Physiologically acidic fertilizers on acidic soils directly under forage beans, as well as other legumes, do not use, as it negatively affects the development of nodule bacteria.

Forage beans respond well to phosphorus and potash fertilizers, which are brought under the main treatment in autumn and in top dressing.

Row application of phosphate fertilizer is recommended during planting. The rates of application are the same as those recommended for leguminous crops.


The system of tillage for forage beans is similar to that for early spring crops. After spring harrowing, deep non-moldboard tillage with harrowing is sometimes required.


Seed preparation

Seeds preparation for sowing consists of sorting and calibration, air-heat treatment and dressing.

Before sowing, the seeds are treated with bacterial preparations and ammonium molybdate at a rate of 0.25-0.50 grams of molybdenum per 1 ton of seeds.

Sowing dates

Sowing of fodder beans is carried out in early terms. Studies of the Chernigov agricultural experimental station showed the advantage of early sowing terms: the yield of fodder beans when sowing:

  • April 4 was: seeds – 2.52 t/ha (protein 720 kg/ha), green mass – 29.9 t/ha (protein 630 kg/ha);
  • April 15 was: seeds – 2.26 t/ha (protein 650 kg/ha), green mass – 21.6 t/ha (protein 450 kg/ha);
  • on April 25: seeds – 1.72 t/ha (protein 490 kg/ha), green mass – 19.2 t/ha (protein 400 kg/ha).

Sowing methods

Seed and green mass sowing methods are wide-row with 45-60 cm row-spacing (double-row 60×15 cm), and usual row spacing.

Sowing is carried out by grain seeders with top seeding for less seed trauma.

In the north, in conditions of sufficient moisture and a short growing season on clean fields, the usual row sowing is used. Ripening in this case proceeds a little faster and the yield is higher. For example, in the conditions of Latvia, the bean yield was 2.94 t/ha with the row planting method, and 2.77 t/ha with the wide-row (45 cm) method.

Seeding rates

Seed rate with wide-row method is 400-500 thousand/ha of germinating seeds, in less humid areas – 300-400 thousand/ha. In the row method in more humid areas – up to 600-700 thousand / ha of germinated seeds.

With narrower row spacing the seeding rate increases, also increases the increase in yield. The maximum yield (36.7 t/ha) in this experiment was obtained with the row seeding method with seeding rate of 0.62 million/ha of germinated seeds.

Table. Yield of green mass of fodder beans depending on seeding rate and sowing methods (Holt, 1967, Latvia)

Usual row method (15 cm)
Wide-row (45 cm)
Strip (45+15 cm)
Seeding rate, mln/ha of germinated seeds (kg/ha)
0,42 (200)
0,52 (250)
0,62 (300)
0,31 (150)
0,42 (200)
0,52 (250)
0,31 (150)
0,42 (200)
0,52 (250)
Yield, t/ha

Sowing depth

Large bean seeds are sown in heavy soils to a depth of 4-6 cm, in light soils – 7-8 cm.

Crop care

After sowing on light soils and in dry weather it is recommended to roll with ring-spiked rollers.

To control weeds carry out 1-3 harrowing before emergence (also to break the soil crust) and on sprouts in the midday hours in the phase of 2-3 leaves. The second harrowing on sprouts is carried out at the height of plants 5-6 cm in the afternoon with light harrows. Also carry out inter-row cultivation, with a good moisture – a small dip, fertilizers.

Inter-row cultivation begins in the phase of 3-6 leaves with a protective zone of 10-12 cm. For this purpose, wire hoes or sections of rotary hoes mounted on the cultivator frame are used. Inter-row cultivation is carried out 2 times to a depth of 8-12 cm. Treatments are completed at the height of plants 50-60 cm.


To accelerate maturation, a month before harvesting, pruning, which is the removal of 10-12 cm of the top of the main stems. This method also reduces the infestation of plants by aphids.

Table. Effect of pruning on yield and seed quality of fodder beans (All-Russian Research Institute of Fodder)

Experience option
Seed yield, 100 kg/ha
Number of ripe beans, %
Seed moisture, %
Weight of 1000 seeds, g
Without pruning
Pruning at 10-15 cm, carried out on July 22

Removal of leaves also affects the acceleration of bean ripening. To do this, plants are sprayed with preparations that cause leaf drying and leaf fall, such as 10-15% solutions of nitrate or ammonium sulfate. Crops are treated 2-3 weeks before harvesting.

At full maturity, the beans tend to crack and the seeds tend to shatter. Therefore, the preferred method of harvesting two-phase, start harvesting when 25% of the bottom beans turn brown. The seeds ripen well in dry and warm weather and retain their high sowing qualities.

High-stemmed, lodging-resistant varieties may be harvested in one or two phases. The two-phase harvesting method preferably consists of depositing the cuttings in a high stubble. The drying of swaths lasts 5-10 days, over-drying leads to losses from cracking of beans and shattering of seeds. The threshing of the swaths is carried out at a drum rotation speed of 400-500 rpm.

When 85-90% of the beans are blackened, harvesting is carried out in a single phase. In this case, defoliation is carried out 2-3 weeks in advance.

Seeds often have high humidity after harvesting, so they are cleaned and dried immediately before being put into storage. 


V.V. Kolomeychenko. Horticulture/Textbook. – Moscow: Agrobiznesentr, 2007. – 600 с. ISBN 978-5-902792-11-6.

Horticulture/P.P. Vavilov, V.V. Gritsenko. Vavilov. ed. by P.P. Vavilov, V.S. Kuznetsov et al. – M.: Agropromizdat, 1986. – 512 p.: ill. – (Textbook and Tutorials for Higher Education Institutions).

Fundamentals of agricultural production technology. Farming and plant growing. Ed. by V.S. Niklyaev. – Moscow: “Bylina”. 2000. – 555 с.