Pigeon pea: a multipurpose, drought resistant forage, grain and vegetable crop for sustainable southern farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $200,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. John Sloan
Texas AgriLife Research

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: soybeans, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: cover crops, intercropping, conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, market study, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil chemistry, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration


    A multi-year study to evaluate the potential production of pigeon pea [Cajanus cajan (L.)] in the Southern United States was conducted from 2007 to 2011 in Northeast Texas. Pigeon pea is a warm-season legume crop grown for grain in the tropics and subtropics. More recently, it has been evaluated as a forage crop in the Southern U.S. because its drought tolerance and indeterminate growth cycle make it a good candidate for providing a source of forage from late summer to mid-autumn when other forage crops are less available. Pigeon pea is also a major pulse crop in some parts of the world, including India where current production is inadequate to meet demand, thus creating a potential export market for Southern U.S. farmers. Additionally, the rapid increase in the Indo-American population in large U.S. cities has created a local market for U.S.-grown pigeon pea.

    On-farm studies were conducted to determine if pigeon pea could be direct-seeded into existing Bermuda grass pastures in the spring in order to enhance to pasture productivity in late summer and early fall. Results demonstrated that although pigeon pea will germinate and grow in an existing pasture, using pigeon pea in this way is not the most effective way to take advantage of its potential as a source of forage. Concurrent research in Oklahoma indicated that it is more effective to grow pigeon pea as a dedicated crop that should be grown to the flowering stage before allowing it to be grazed by cattle. Although pigeon pea is a drought tolerant crop, adequate moisture is needed for the first month after planting in order to achieve acceptable germination and seedling survival. Also, although pigeon pea can survive under conditions of low fertility with no supplemental fertilization, its overall growth and grain production is improved by supplying phosphorus fertilizer.

    A runoff study was conducted to determine if Pigeon pea directly planted into existing pastures could reduce the total amount of stormwater runoff. Results indicated that reduction in storm water was dependent on pigeon pea type and population density. The Georgia-2 variety decreased storm water runoff when planted at a 123K plants/ha whereas the Georgia-1 had little effect. Results from the runoff study support the on-farm study in suggesting that pigeon pea has its greatest potential as a new crop for Southern farmers when planted in prepared soil with supplemental fertilization, regardless of whether the crop is being grown for forage or grain. However, use of pigeon pea for soil and water conservation remains a potential application for pigeon pea if the appropriate types and planting techniques can be identified. A potentially new use for pigeon pea identified by this project is its use as a combination vegetable and ornamental plant in urban landscapes where there is an increasing interest in urban farming, community supported agriculture, and community gardens.

    Project objectives:

    • The overall objective of this research was to introduce pigeon pea as a low-input forage and grain crop in Northeast Texas and to investigate its growth and yield potential using a combination of on-farm and experimental field plot research. Specific objectives were:

      1. Quantify the effects of pigeon pea planting strategies (plant variety, population density, and soil preparation) on water infiltration and runoff water quantity and quality. Evaluate the impact of pigeon pea on soil physical and chemical properties.

      2. Evaluate the impact of pigeon pea grain crops on the depletion of soil profile moisture and the growth and yield of subsequent crops.

      3. Demonstrate and evaluate the value of pigeon pea as a late season forage crop when intercropped with existing grass pastures or as a post-wheat-harvest crop. Determine if cattle will graze pigeon pea during its pre-flowering growth stage or if they are not attracted to the pigeon pea until it reaches its flowering stage. Determine if there are different patterns and preferences in the way cattle graze white seed versus brown seed pigeon pea varieties.

      4. Explore the market for fresh pod and dried bean forms of pigeon pea in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

    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.