Could sainfoin be the first dual-purpose perennial pulse crop for the western US?

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $24,864.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2024
Host Institution Award ID: G145-23-W9210
Grant Recipient: Alaska Ranch
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Shawn Wentzel
Alaska Ranch


  • Agronomic: hay, other
  • Animals: bees


  • Crop Production: cropping systems
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal summary:

    The Land Institute has been researching sainfoin as a candidate perennial pulse crop since 2017, but sainfoin has already been used in Conservation Reserve Program plantings and as a perennial hay and grazing crop for 50+ years in MT. This project asks “Is sainfoin ready to be grown as a perennial pulse MT using common forage-type varieties?” and “Could managing sainfoin as a dual purpose pulse and forage crop allow for early and low-risk, adoption by MT farmers until new pulse-type varieties are developed?” We propose to 1) document seed, forage, and honey yield and quality from six commercial sainfoin fields of three common forage-type varieties, 2) document changes in soil health parameters over the project period, and 3) compare yields of common forage-type varieties to experimental pulse-type varieties selected at The Land Institute.

    We will collaborate with The Land Institute’s sainfoin breeder to generate sainfoin yield potential and ecosystem services market data needed to attract investment from food companies and interest from other researchers in this sustainable crop. We will share our findings through fact-sheets, a field day, and youtube and social media. We hope that this project provides other farmers and ranchers with the knowledge needed to grow and sell this novel pulse crop.  Despite yields that may be lower than other common annual pulses grown in MT, we expect sainfoin will be a viable option because of its resiliency over multiple years and the multiple income streams it can provide as an integrated crop-livestock system.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Objectives: Determine the viability of sainfoin as a perennial pulse in MT.

    Objective R.1. Evaluate seed/grain yields, biomass yields, honey yields, and grain/forage quality of common forage-type sainfoin varieties in MT at commercial scales.

    Objective R.2. Evaluate effects of sainfoin on soil health and carbon sequestration. 

    Objective R.3. Compare the persistence, yield, and adaptability of experimental sainfoin pulse populations compared to common forage-type varieties.

    Education Objectives: Improve farmer and stakeholder knowledge of sainfoin as a forage and potential pulse.

    Objective E.1. Host an on-farm demonstration/field day in Twin Bridges, MT.

    Objective E.2. Publish findings about sainfoin yields and ecosystem services in fact sheets and youtube videos.


    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.