A new variety of sainfoin holds great promise in Alberta forage systems, says a provincial beef and forage specialist.
“The development and release of the new AC Mountainview sainfoin has caused a bit of a stir in the forage world,” said Linda Hunt, who works in the Stettler branch of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
“The renewed interest in sainfoin coupled with an apparent increase in forage establishment has led to higher-than-expected sainfoin sales. But while some retailers have even begun to import sainfoin seed from the U.S., not all sainfoin has been created equal and it’s important to make sure that you know what you are buying.”
Sainfoin is a plant that was heavily researched in the 1960s and ’70s as a non-bloat alternative to alfalfa that could be grown in the drier, alkaline areas of the North American Prairies. The earliest plants were imported from Russia and other parts of Europe, and used to develop local varieties.
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“Melrose and Nova were the two varieties developed and registered in Canada,” said Hunt. “Most of the Canadian-grown seed in the market today is assumed to come from these varieties.”
Soon after their introduction into the marketplace, sainfoin quickly fell into the background and out of favour.
“Up to this point sainfoin had been selected for biomass production and winter hardiness,” said Hunt. “This resulted in the development of varieties that had excellent production when grown in a pure stand for hay or once over fall grazing, but weren’t suitable for multi-cut hay or grazing systems.
“Forage growers found that although sainfoin was palatable, it just did not persist more than one or two growing seasons in mixed stands and so was not worth the high cost of seed.”
Research on sainfoin declined in North America, market demand dwindled, and gradually Canadian growers stopped producing pedigreed seed.
“There are a few seed growers in the U.S. who are producing pedigreed seed,” said Hunt. “However, as none of their varieties are registered with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, none of their pedigreed seed is being sold in Canada. As a result, only common sainfoin seed is available in Canada, which means that any sainfoin currently being purchased has a low requirement for weed cleanliness and germination, and may not be suitable for the Canadian climate.”
However, that is about to change.
“AC Mountainview is a different kind of sainfoin and unique in North America,” said Hunt. “This new variety was selected from populations being grown with alfalfa under a multi-cut system. The resulting variety has excellent regrowth and the potential to persist in stands of alfalfa. The idea is that the tannins in the sainfoin, when seeded in the right proportion with the alfalfa, will buffer the bloat risk of the alfalfa and allow producers to safely graze a high-quality, highly productive forage stand. Early research in this intensive grazing system is showing promise.”
Currently Northstar Seeds owns the rights to market the AC Mountainview sainfoin, and will begin multiplying the seed as soon as it can produce certified seed.
“It was hoped to have product to market for the 2014 growing season,” said Hunt. “However, hail damage to the breeder seed fields has slowed down production considerably. The new outlook is for pedigreed seed to be available in 2016.”