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Sainfoin (also Esparcet) is a fodder crop related to perennial leguminous grasses.

Common sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia)
Common sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia)
Source: commons.wikimedia.org
©Mars 2002 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Economic importance

Sainfoin hay is nutritionally similar to alfalfa hay. When feeding green mass to cattle, it does not lead to tympanitis when grazing in dew or in rainy weather.

100 kg of sainfoin hay correspond to 54 feed units and contain 12.6 kg of digestible protein, 100 kg of fresh grass – 24.8 feed units and 3.9 kg of digestible protein (Fodder Research Institute).

Sainfoin has agrotechnical value, as a good predecessor in crop rotation. The yield of winter wheat on fallow occupied by sainfoin, on average for 9 years, was 2.7 t/ha of grain, yielding only to black fallow by 0.2 t/ha (Kharkiv Agricultural Institute). It serves as a good fallow-occupying crop, freeing fields early, as well as for grassing sloping lands and sandy soils.

Also, like other legumes, sainfoin, due to its ability to fix nitrogen, enriches the soil with nitrogen, accumulating it up to 100-200 kg/ha and 5-6 t/ha of plant residues.

Honey plant.

History of the crop

Sainfoin began to be grown in Transcaucasia in the 10th century. (according to other sources in the 5th century), in the south of France at the end of the 15th century, in Russia – at the beginning of the 19th century.


The yield of hay can vary from 2.5 to 6 t/ha.

In many areas of the steppe and forest-steppe zones, sainfoin gives high yields of hay. Under conditions of low-water irrigation, the yield of sainfoin hay is 20-25% higher than that of alfalfa. Thus, in the Altai Research Institute of Agriculture, the average yield of sainfoin hay over 11 years was 5.3 t/ha. In the Kustanai variety plot, the yield of grass mixture hay, including sainfoin, was 5.6 t/ha.

In the Belgorod region, the hay yield was 5.4-5.7 t/ha.

In the soil-protective crop rotation, the grass mixture of Transcaucasian sainfoin and awnless brome gave 60 t/ha of green mass for 3 years of use. Sainfoin mixed with awnless brome shows high yields in fodder crop rotations in the steppe zone.

In addition, it has a high seed yield up to 0.7-0.9 t/ha.

Botanical description

The root system is pivotal, penetrating into the soil to a depth of 1 m, on loose soils – up to 2-2.5 m (maximum – up to 4-5 m), the bulk of the roots are concentrated at a depth of up to 20 cm. It has the ability to use sparingly soluble calcareous and phosphoric compounds, so the application of phosphate fertilizers almost does not increase the yield of hay or seeds.

The leaf is complex, pinnate, has 6-18 pairs of leaflets and one apical, lower leaf on a long petiole.

The stem usually does not branch. Each node produces a leaf with two stipules. Plant height from 80 to 100 cm.

The inflorescence is a spiky raceme 3-20 cm long.

The flowers are large, pink, sometimes white or red, with dark stripes. Cross-pollination by insects.

The fruit is a one-seeded bean, rounded, hairy, 6-9 mm long, the wings are tightly connected, so sainfoin is sown with beans, usually called seeds (beans).


Sainfoin includes over 150 species. In culture, the following have become widespread: common, sandy and Transcaucasian.

Common sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia Scop), or ordinary, or sowing, is a minor plant. Height under natural conditions 30-60 cm, in culture 70-150 cm. Number of internodes 5-7. The leaf is elliptical, sometimes lanceolate, dark green in color. The brush is ovoid. The flower is pink with a red tinge. The beans are large, weight 1000 pieces 17-22 g. It is grown in the steppe and forest-steppe zones of Russia, in particular, in the Central Black Earth zone.

Sandy sainfoin (Onobrychis arenaria D.С.), or wild, is a mid-summer plant. The height in natural phytocenoses is 30-50 cm, in culture 50-100 cm, sometimes 125 cm. The root system is powerful, penetrates deep into the soil up to 1.7 m, absorbs sparingly soluble nutrients more than other types of sainfoin. The bush is upright. Number of internodes 6-8. The stem is rough. The leaf is lanceolate, green in color, the upper leaves are yellow-green. Lower leaves on long petioles, upper ones on short ones. The brush is mouse-tailed, narrow, pointed. The flowers are purple-pink, with dark stripes. The beans are small, smooth, slightly shiny, grayish-yellow-green, weight 1000 pieces 11-15 g. It is frost-resistant. In forage and field crop rotations are usually used for hay and grazing for aftermath. Grown in the Volga region, the North Caucasus and Western Siberia.

Transcaucasian sainfoin (Onobrychis antasiatica Khin), or Caucasian, or Western Asian. Young shoots and leaves are pubescent, gray-green. The stem is hollow, tender. The brush is long, cylindrical with a blunt tip. Pods are short-haired, rarely bare. Weight of 1000 pieces – 15-20 g. Seed hardness 10-20%. In terms of yield, it surpasses other species, as well as alfalfa. Gives 2 cuttings per year, the seeds ripen in the year of sowing. More productive than sainfoin, it grows faster, giving two cuts, which is why it is also called bicut. Distributed in the North Caucasus and the Central Black Earth zone.

Unlike alfalfa, all types of sainfoin are less damaged by pests and diseases, giving stable seed yields of 600-800 kg/ha.

Biological features

Temperature requirements

Sainfoin seeds begin to germinate at a temperature of 1-2 °C, the optimum germination temperature is 18-25 °C.

Sainfoin is characterized by high winter hardiness, especially its sandy species; there have been cases of its overwintering in winters with little snow at temperatures up to -42 … -48 ° С. The leaves of sandy sainfoin are also cold-resistant. During spring frosts, unlike alfalfa, they do not die even at a temperature of -12 °C.

Common sainfoin is less winter-hardy.

Moisture requirements

Sainfoin is a typical xerophyte. A strong root system allows plants to use the water of horizons located deeper than 1 m from the soil surface. A.V. Sovetov said that neither cold nor drought will stop the growth of sainfoin if it is rooted.

Water consumption is 300-400 units, which is significantly less than clover or alfalfa.

The maximum consumption of moisture from the soil falls on the period of the budding phase – the beginning of flowering. To obtain a yield of sainfoin hay of more than 5 t/ra, the supply of water available for plants in a meter layer of soil must be at least 2000 t/ha.

Sainfoin Transcaucasus and sandy are the most drought-resistant.

Light requirements

Sainfoin is demanding of light. The yield of hay depends on the level of shading and its duration, which must be taken into account when choosing a cover crop. Sainfoin Transcaucasus considers it more hardy to shading.

In the experiments of the Sumy Agricultural Experimental Station, when sainfoin was oversowed under various cover crops, the following yields were obtained:

  • when oversowing with spring wheat , the yield of sainfoin hay was 2.8 t/ha, the yield of the entire cover crop biomass was 3.1 t/ha;
  • when oversowing under spring barley – 2.3 t/ha of hay and 4.3 t/ha of the total cover crop biomass;
  • when oversowing under spring oats – 2.2 t/ha of hay and 4.4 t/ha of the total biomass of the cover crop.

Soil requirements

Sainfoin prefers loose, calcareous, loamy and sandy soils, grows well on heavily washed away with close limestone occurrence. Optimal limed chernozems. It does not tolerate flooding, therefore, floodplain and irrigated lands are not suitable for cultivation.

Differs in the lowered salt tolerance. Thus, chloride-sulfate salinity of 0.05-0.10% reduces the energy of seed germination by 2-3 times, reducing field germination and productivity. Highly saline, acidic and excessively moist soils are not suitable for this crop.

For sandy sainfoin, the subsoil is also important, it must be loose, breathable, with deep groundwater. Common sainfoin can grow well on moderately moist loamy and sandy soils, as well as on washed-out sloping lands; it does not tolerate alkaline, peaty, heavy clay soils and with close groundwater.

Plant nutrition

With 1 ton of sainfoin hay, 6-7 kg/ha P2O5, 18-20 kg/ha K2O, 11-12 kg/ha calcium, 1.5-1.7 kg/ha magnesium are removed from the soil.

Due to the powerful root system and its ability to assimilate phosphorus of sparingly soluble compounds, the effect of fertilization is manifested only before the formation of the root system. At the same time, sainfoin significantly increases the use of phosphate fertilizers by the subsequent crop.


Sainfoin has spring (early) and winter (late) types of development, and for sandy and Transcaucasian it is mainly spring, and for sowing – winter.

After the appearance of the cotyledons, the first monocotyledonous true leaf appears, then the second and third with three leaves. The number of pairs of leaflets on each subsequent sheet increases. In the axils of the lower leaves, lateral buds are laid, which are located above the place of attachment of the cotyledons, as a result of which the tillering zone is a kind of head or crown. In 10-14 days after the emergence of seedlings, it gradually retracts into the soil. This process is especially intense in sandy sainfoin. So, 3 months after the emergence of shoots, the head of common sainfoin was at a depth of 1.9 cm, while that of sandy sainfoin was 2.2 cm. In the next 2 and 3 years of life, the head continues to sink into the soil, but at a slower rate.

In the first month of vegetation, the formation and deepening of the root system occurs most intensively; on the 20th day after emergence, the length of the root system exceeds the height of plants by 3-4 times.

Winter forms form a sprawling rosette of leaves, spring forms are more compressed and raised. With thickened sowing, the number of leaves is 15-20 pieces, with sparse sowing – 36-50. The number of leaflets on the uppermost leaves can reach 19.

The regrowth phase of all types of sainfoin begins than in alfalfa. The period from regrowth to the beginning of flowering is 60-65 days, to seed ripening – 110-120 days. In autumn, sainfoin stops active growth when the average daily temperature is below 5 ° C.

Flowering occurs 7-14 days earlier than alfalfa.

By the end of the growing season, with coverless sowing in early spring, the spring type of sainfoin usually reaches the stemming phase – the beginning of flowering, sometimes plants can form seeds. Plants of winter type finish the growing season in the phase of the rosette of leaves.

Under the cover of another culture, in the first year of life, sainfoin grows slowly, managing to form only a rosette of basal leaves by autumn. It reaches full development in the second year of life. High yields of dry matter and seeds occur in the second and third years, in the fourth and fifth years – crops thin out and fall out, however, under favorable conditions, grass stands can last up to 6-8 years.

Sandy sainfoin does not tolerate constant grazing; normalized pasture after mowing is allowed. Its aftertaste is poor, because after mowing, regrowth occurs slowly, only rosettes of basal leaves are formed. Common sainfoin and some forms of Transcaucasian sainfoin withstand grazing better, so they can be included in pasture grass mixtures, but grazing is not allowed in the year of sowing. With an early first etching, it is able to give another 1-2 aftertaves. On the pasture it is satisfactorily eaten by various animals, in autumn it is less readily than alfalfa.

Crop rotation

Sainfoin can be cultivated in field, fodder, soil-protective crop rotations. Various cultures can serve as predecessors.

In field crop rotations, winter wheat and corn for green fodder are considered good predecessors , in fodder cropscereals, fodder root crops and other crops.

When slopes are grassed, sainfoin is sown uncovered in grass mixtures with cereals (bluegrass) and legumes.

With a one-year use in a seeded fallow, sainfoin is usually sown in its pure form.


When sowing, a row fertilizer with granular superphosphate is used, which, when applied at 50 kg/ha, helps to increase hay yield by 0.5-0.6 t/ha (All-Russian Research Institute of Grain Farming).

The introduction of 200 kg/ha of superphosphate for plowing in the conditions of Moldova increased the yield of hay by 0.4 t/ha.

Other fertilizers for sainfoin, as a rule, are not applied, with the exception of very poor soils.

After harvesting the predecessor, peeling is carried out by 5-7 cm. When the fields are clogged with root-shoot weeds, it is better to peel with share cultivators to a depth of 10-12 cm. depth 20-25 cm.

In arid and semi-arid conditions, leveled plowing is used, that is, after autumn plowing, the field is cultivated and harrowed to reduce spring pre-sowing tillage to harrowing and sowing to minimize moisture loss.

Sainfoin responds well to the deepening of the arable layer up to 25-27 cm.

On the day of sowing, the seeds are treated with bacterial preparations, for example, nitragin, which increases the yield of hay by 0.5-0.6 t/ha. Even more effective is the joint treatment of seeds with bacterial preparations and molybdenum microfertilizers at the rate of 200 g of ammonium molybdate per hectare seeding rate. According to the All-Russian Research Institute of Feeds, treatment with molybdenum microfertilizers and nitragin increased the yield of sainfoin hay by 0.9 t/ha.

To treat seeds from ascochitosis, seed mold, anthracnose, fusarium, white and gray rot, TMTD preparations are used 2-15 days before sowing.

Before sowing, the seeds are cleaned of impurities, primarily from the seeds of burnet, which reduces the yield.

Sainfoin is usually sown under the cover of spring crops. Sowing is carried out early, in the first 2-3 days from the start of field work. Since the seeds of sainfoin are quite large compared to other perennial grasses, it can be sown in a mixture with grain seeds, or inter-row method with grain-grass planters. When overseeding under winter crops, sowing is carried out with disc seeders across the cover crop rows.

For late sowing, millet can be used as a cover crop in the steppe zone. With summer crops without a cover, sainfoin is sown from July 20 to August 10. Freshly harvested seeds are suitable for summer sowing, since their post-harvest ripening is 8-10 days with air-thermal heating.

The general recommended seed sowing rate in pure form in the forest-steppe, foothill areas and irrigated lands is 90-100 kg/ha, in the steppe – 70-80 kg/ha. For sandy sainfoin in the conditions of the steppe zone in pure sowing – 50-60 kg/ha, in the forest-steppe – 70-80 kg/ha. For sainfoin sainfoin in the steppe zone – 60-75 kg/ha, in the forest-steppe – 90 kg/ha. In grass mixtures – 35-40 kg/ha.

Sowing depth on heavy soils – 3-4 cm, light – 4-6 cm.

Crop care

When harvesting a cover crop, straw is immediately removed from the fields, leaving a stubble height of 15-20 cm, to protect young shoots of sainfoin from sunburn, in winter to accumulate snow.

In the spring of the next year, two-track harrowing is performed to remove stubble and loosen the topsoil. After mowing for hay, the field is harrowed with heavy harrows.

In conditions of arid regions and sloping lands, it is recommended to carry out autumn slotting on crops of the second or third year of sainfoin life for additional accumulation of moisture in the soil. The slotting is carried out by PRVN-2.5A ripper plows equipped with slot cutters.

Against annual cereals and dicotyledonous weeds, pre-sowing herbicides Treflan, Triflurex are used.


Typical sainfoin diseases include:

  • powdery mildew that attacks leaves, stems and beans. With a strong development of the disease, seed yield is reduced by 50-70%;
  • rust that affects leaves, stems, peduncles and beans. It is dangerous in the early period of plant development, more often spreads on old-growth crops, reduces the yield of hay and seeds;
  • Fusarium, with a strong lesion, only brown stems remain on the plants. Some types of Fusarium are capable of infecting the root, leading to its decay. With a strong development of the fungus, mass death of plants occurs.

To combat diseases, early mowing of affected herbage is carried out, destruction of post-harvest plant residues, seeds obtained from less infected crops are used for seed purposes, crop rotation, new crops are placed at a distance from old-growth ones, and resistant varieties are introduced.


The sainfoin weevil infects the bean and seeds. The hatched larvae gnaw through the walls of the bean and eat away the contents of the seed. Damage to seeds can reach 30-50%.

The sainfoin eurythoma lays its eggs in the pulp of the seed. The larvae hatching from the eggs eat the contents of the seed.

For pest control, seeds are cleaned, since damaged seeds are lighter than healthy ones, they are easy to separate on grain cleaning machines. Rejected damaged seeds are burned.

Chemical means of struggle – Karbofos, Karbofot, Fufanon, Kemifos, Bunchuk. Spraying is carried out during the growing season.

Sainfoin seed crops are affected by sainfoin flower mosquito, sainfoin flower beetle, sainfoin thrips. Permitted chemicals are used against these pests. To reduce the harmful effect of nodule weevils, seeds are treated with molybdenum microfertilizers and bacterial preparations before sowing, sowing is carried out at an early date, new crops are placed at a distance from the old ones.


To mowing sainfoin for hay, they start in the budding phase – the beginning of flowering, ending with the phase of mass flowering. Delay in harvesting leads to a decrease in the protein content by 15-20%, the hay turns out to be rough and is poorly eaten by animals. In addition, mowing during the period of full flowering gives almost no aftertaste.

Cutting height 6 cm from the soil surface. The last mowing is carried out at a height of 8-10 cm for sufficient accumulation of plastic substances by plants before leaving for the winter, better snow retention and better regrowth in spring. Otherwise, the hay harvesting technology is similar to hay harvesting of other legumes.

Growing for seeds

In the conditions of the humid zone, sainfoin seed plants are isolated in ordinary crops of the second year of use of the first mowing. In conditions of arid regions and a lack of seeds, seed plants are sown in the summer on a bare fallow, usually such crops are more productive than early spring undercover ones. In the Lower Volga region, in the North Caucasus and southern Ukraine, it is recommended to sow seed plants in a clean fallow from August 15 to 20, in the northern part of the forest belt of Ukraine – no later than August 5, in the forest-steppe zone and the Middle Volga region – no later than August 1. The sowing method is the usual ordinary and wide-row (for faster propagation of promising varieties) with a row spacing of 45-70 cm. The seeding rate is reduced by 2-3 times than with conventional sowing.

On ordinary row crops, seed crop care is the same as for fodder crops; on wide-row crops, 2-3 inter-row treatments are carried out. For better pollination, apiaries are taken out to the seed plants, due to which the seed yield increases by 100-200 kg/ha.

Ripe fruits fall off easily. Fully formed, but green fruits ripen quite well in windrows. However, in damp weather, the seeds can germinate easily. Separate harvesting or direct combining is chosen depending on weather conditions, technical feasibility and contamination of crops.

Seed harvesting is carried out more often in a separate way. Start with browning 40-50% of the beans. First, the plants are mowed, laying the mass in rolls, after which the beans are threshed after drying.

Direct combining begins no later than browning 70-75% of the beans, finishing harvesting in 2-3 days. After harvesting, the heap is immediately passed through the winnowers, the seeds are dried. In steppe and dry-steppe regions with hot summers, the winnowed seeds are scattered in a layer of 8-10 cm and mixed periodically. After that, sainfoin seeds are suitable for long-term storage, provided their moisture content is not more than 14-15%.


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