Integration of Forage Fenugreek into the Northeast Cropping System

Final Report for ONE04-018

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2004: $9,634.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $6,426.00
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Heather Darby
University of Vermont Extension
Expand All

Project Information


There are so few annual forage crops that can be grown in the Northeast with the superior forage qualities of silage corn. This project evaluated the potential for fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) to be used as an alternative annual forage crop in the Northeast. Fenugreek is an annual legume that is similar in quality to alfalfa. The objective of this study was to evaluate the performance of fenugreek in the Northeast by measuring yield and quality of five fenugreek varieties. The project was conducted from 2004 to 2006 in Alburgh, Vermont. The experimental design of the variety trial was a randomized complete block design. The main plots were five fenugreek varieties. Growth, development, yield and quality (protein, fiber content, and digestible fiber) were measured in 2004 and 2006. In 2005, there was a complete crop loss. Fenugreek produced yields and quality similar to an average alfalfa crop in the Northeast. However, disease and weed pressure limited yields, quality, and harvest management under Northeast growing conditions.


A movement towards larger dairy farms in the Northeast has led to widespread adoption of monoculture silage corn production. Crops grown in monoculture can have negative impacts on the environment. Since there are so few annual forage crops that can be grown in the Northeast the introduction of alternative high yield and quality annual forage crops would lead to more extended rotations. A plausible alternative forage crop for the Northeast is fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.). Fenugreek is an annual legume that is similar in quality to alfalfa. It is only cut once during the growing season and can be harvested for hay or silage. Fenugreek does not loose quality as it matures and therefore has a longer harvest window than corn silage or alfalfa. The objective of this study was to evaluate the performance of forage fenugreek varieties in Vermont. In 2004 and 2006, five forage fenugreek varieties (Amber, F80, L3314, F70, and F86) were harvested 11 weeks after planting. At this time dry matter yield and quality (crude protein, in vitro digestibility, neutral and acid detergent fiber, digestible neutral detergent fiber, and mineral concentrations) were determined. In 2004 and 2006 dry matter yields ranged from 2.0 to 4.5 tons/acre. Forage quality was higher in 2006 than 2004. On average, crude protein was 27% higher and fiber content 30% lower in 2006 than 2004. In general forage quality among varieties was similar. Although yield and quality were lower than alfalfa in 2004, we felt that a devastating bacterial disease actually lowered yields and quality. In 2006, yield and quality were similar to alfalfa but strong weed pressure most likely limited yields.

Project Objectives:

The overall goal of this project was to evaluate the performance of forage fenugreek in Vermont. The specific objective of this study was to evaluate the performance of fenugreek in the Northeast by measuring yield and quality of five fenugreek varieties.


Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Surya Acharya
  • Sid Bosworth
  • Roger Rainville


Materials and methods:

In 2004, 2005, and 2006 the variety trial was conducted at Borderview farm in Alburg, VT. The experimental design was a randomized complete block with four replicates. The treatments included five fenugreek varieties (Amber, F80, L3314, F70, and F86). Fenugreek seed was obtained from Surya Acharya at the Agriculture Food Canada Research Center in Lethbridge, Alberta. Plot size was 3.04 x 6.08 m. Trials were seeded on May 17th in 2004, May 29th in 2005, and on May 29th in 2006. Fenugreek was seeded at a rate of 15 lbs/acre and to a depth of 2.50 cm. During the growing season, insect and disease problems were recorded. Disease severity and insect damage was evaluated on a 1 to 9 scale (where 1 = greatest severity and 9 = least severity). In 2004 and 2006, fenugreek was harvested 11 weeks after planting. The study was not harvested in 2005 due to a crop failure. At harvest time, the entire plot was mowed. The forage was raked onto a canvas tarp and weighed to determine yield. Approximately 1-kg of the fresh forage was subsampled and used to determine moisture and quality. Ground samples were analyzed for neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber (ADF), 30 h digestible NDF (dNDF), and crude protein (CP). Mixed model analysis was calculated using the mixed procedure of SAS (SAS Institute, 1999). Mean separation among varieties were obtained using the Least Significant Difference (LSD) procedure when significant F-tests (P<0.10) were observed.

Research results and discussion:

In 2004, fenugreek germinated well and grew rapidly during the first 8 weeks after planting. Nine weeks after planting, a bacterial leaf spot was observed on all fenugreek varieties. The severity of leaf spot spread rapidly and in two weeks the plants were beginning to show signs of severe leaf necrosis. Disease severity was recorded at the time of harvest. The fenugreek was harvested at 11 weeks after planting because of the severe infestation of leaf spot. The level of disease severity was significantly different among varieties. Amber and F-80 appeared to have some tolerance to the leaf spot. Since these varieties were bred under arid conditions they have little resistance to diseases common to temperate climates. The 2004 growing season was the third wettest on record likely creating conditions conducive for disease. In 2004, the highest dry matter yields were obtained from Amber and F-80 varieties of fenugreek. Overall yields were similar to those reported by Acharya and Mir (2002). However, due to the severe infestation of leaf spot fenugreek was harvested earlier than the recommended time of 15 to 17 weeks after planting. We propose that higher yields could have been obtained if the forage was harvested at the recommended time. In 2004, there were no significant quality differences, with the exception of dNDF, between varieties. NDF (average 53%) and ADF (average 41%) concentrations were higher and CP (average 16%) concentrations lower than those reported by Acharya and Mir (2002). Leaf necrosis associated with the leaf spot may have caused an increase in the proportion of fiber compared to nonstructural carbohydrates found in the leaves. There were significant dNDF (average 39%) differences between varieties. Digestibility was significantly lower for F-80 compared to the other varieties.

The experiment was repeated in 2005. The germination rate of the fenugreek was extremely low (10-30%) across all replicates and varieties two week after planting. Fenugreek that did germinate grew very slow and was not at similar growth stages in relation to 2004. Fenugreek flowered after only 4 weeks of growth and reached an average height of 6 inches. The plants did not become lush and bushey as they did in 2004. Fenugreek reached a height of 3 feet in 2004 and did not flower until 9 weeks after planting. The trial was abandoned at this time and forage yields were not measured. To the best of our knowledge we felt that the fenugreek was stunted by some type of chemical residue in the soil. The land was newly rented ground and the past cropping history was not very well documented.

In 2006, fenugreek also germinated and grew rapidly. However, wet spring conditions slowed growth and development. Many areas of the plot were flooded for more than two weeks. The plants rebounded in July as the soil dried and the temperatures warmed. The weeds also grew rapidly and over took many of the plots. Mechanical weed control was difficult at this stage and herbicide control ineffective. There was little bacterial leaf spot observed most likely due to dry conditions in July. However weed pressure forced an early harvest at 11 weeks. In 2006, F-80 and F-86 produced the highest dry matter yields of 4.0 and 3.6 tons to the acre. There were few significant quality differences among the varieties. The average crude protein value across all varieties was 21%. The fiber concentrations (ADF and NDF) were significantly higher in L3314 compared to the other varieties. There was no significant difference in dNDF among the varieties.

Overall, fenugreek quality was much better in 2006 than in 2004. The lower quality feed in 2004 could be attributed to leaf necrosis associated with disease. When compared to alfalfa forage produced on the same farm, fenugreek produced a more digestible feed with slightly lower protein. This feed would provide a much needed energy and protein source on the farm and potentially lower grain costs. Fenugreek provides more flexibility over the harvest season because it does not loose quality once it flowers. This is in contrast to alfalfa which greatly declines in quality as soon as it flowers.

Research conclusions:

This project as well as others on alternative annual crops has sparked an interest among producers and agricultural professionals throughout the Northeast. This is one of many projects being conducted to evaluate the potential of such annual crops as BMR sorghum sudangrass, small grains, teff, and forage fenugreek. In general, farmers are always interested in trying something new, and a new crop draws curiosity. This project evaluated the potential to grow annual legume forage in the Northeast. Currently, this type of plant is largely missing from the cropping system. After the mass media article was published in 2004, over 20 phone calls and emails were received from producers from the Northeast and the Midwest. Many farmers wanted to experiment with crop and were looking for a seed source. At least 6 farmers in Vermont, Maine, and Wisconsin seeded the crop in 2004 and had little success. Weed control was the primary reason for crop failure. Through the media articles and research reports more than 1000 farmers were exposed to this new crop. At the field day in 2006, there were 78 farmers in attendance. Many were intrigued by the fenugreek and encouraged more research on the crop. In a post field day survey 80% of the farmers responded that they would experiment with fenugreek if a suitable cover crop was determined for weed control. They felt that disease could be managed through harvest timing. Of the agricultural professionals that attended the meeting, 98% were interested in finding an acceptable annual crop to rotate with corn silage. Lack of rotation has been associated with many environmental problems in the Northeast. Although fenugreek will require more research before it can be adapted to this area, this project has provided producers with valuable information on the benefits of crop rotation. Of the attendees, 80% would rotate out of corn if there was an acceptable replacement that met yield and quality needs of the farm. After the national presentation at the American Society of Agronomy meetings, 3 Extension faculty contacted me to receive research results. At least one Extension faculty member in Wisconsin conducted a trial in 2005. In general, this project has offered to farmers and agricultural professionals around the US a possible addition to their rotations. This crop has not been grown in the Northeast or Midwest. There has been very limited use in the West. However, Dr. Acharya has made great strides in developing high quality forage varieties. Continued collaboration with Dr. Acharya could lead to better adapted varieties for the Northeast. Continued research needs to be conducted to develop a management plan that allows fenugreek to be grown widely in the Northeast.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Mass media articles were written in 2004 and 2006. An introductory fenugreek article was published in several local and regional venues. A research report was also published in the UVM Extension Crops Report distributed to farmers in Vermont. Several presentations were given at local and regional dairy farm meetings. Presentations were given in VT, ME, and NH. A national presentation at the American Society of Agronomy was given in the fall of 2004. A field day was hosted by Borderview Farm in July of 2006. The field day highlighted the fenugreek trial as well as other on-farm research trials. A final project report will be published in the UVM Extension Crops Report to be mailed out in January of 2007.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Fenugreek holds some promise for the Northeast. However, before this crop could be integrated into the cropping system more research needs to be conducted on the two production barriers highlighted in this project. First, the bacterial leaf spot needs to be managed or the crop will never produce to its maximum potential. There were at least 2 varieties that showed some tolerance to the disease. These varieties should be grown and selected for disease resistance. The seed should be saved and resistance populations developed locally. This disease has not been seen in Alberta as the climate is arid. Dr. Acharya has expressed interest in working with UVM to further develop fenugreek for more temperate climates. In addition, weed control problems need to be addressed. In the northeast it is not considered economically feasible to control weeds in forage plantings with herbicides. Generally, a cover crop is seeded with forage plantings to minimize weeds while the crop establishes. However, since fenugreek is an annual and only one cutting is removed a season it will be difficult to find a cover crop that can coincide with the harvest time frame.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.