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Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective. 1994. J.E. Hernándo Bermejo and J. León (eds.). Plant Production and Protection Series No. 26. FAO, Rome, Italy. p. 273-288.

Grain legumes for animal feed

The author of this chapter is L. López Bellido (Department of Agricultural Sciences and Resources, University of Córdoba, Spain).

The author thanks H. López Córcoies for the information provided on Vicia narbonensis and F. Varela for the data on the collections of the Madrid Centre for Plant Genetic Resource Conservation.

Among the grain legumes from the Old World, we may single out two species of the genus Lathyrus (L. sativus L. and L. cicera L.), one species of the genus Trigonella (T. foenum-graecum L.) and three species of the genus Vicia (V. ervilia (L). Willd., V. monanthos (L). Desf. and V. narbonensis L.) on account of their current state of marginalization. In Spanish, L. sativus is called by the popular names almorta, gija, muela and tito and in Latin America by the names alverja and chícharo (in Portuguese it is known as chicharo, in English as chickling vetch and in India as khesari). L. cicera is known as titarro, almorta de monte, chícharo, galgana and cicércula. T. foenum-graecum is known as alhlova and also heno griego or fenogreco (in English, fenugreek). V. ervilia corresponds to the yeros, also known as alcarceña, alverja, alcarraceña, ervilla, lenteja bastarda, etc. (in Portuguese, ervilha de pombo and gero, and in English bitter vetch). V. monanthos is the name of algarroba, garroba and lenteja de Aragón (in English, one-flowered or one-leaved vetch, and in Portuguese ervilhaca parda). Finally, V. narbonensis is known as alverjon and haba loca (in Portuguese ervilhaca de Narbona, and in English Narbonne vetch).

Grain legumes Grain legumes
Figure 32. Grain legumes: A) one-leaved vetch (Vicia monanthos); A1 ) calyx; A2) flower; A3) legume; B) bitter vetch (V. ervilia); B1) flower; B2) legume; C) Narbonne vetch (V. narbonensis); C1) flower; C2) legume Figure 33. Grain legumes: A) chickling vetch (Lathyrus sativus); A1) flower; A2) legume; B) vetchling (Lathyrus cicera); B1) legume; C) fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum); C1) flower; C2) legume

This species, along with the garden pea (Pisum sativum L.), broad bean (Vicia faba L.) and chickpea (Cicer arietinum) were the first cultivated legumes, according to archaeological findings of the neolithic period, Bronze Age and Iron Age in Europe, the Near East and the Nile Valley.

Their location has demonstrated the spread of these species from their centre of domestication. Because of their larger size, the seeds that have been found are considered to be cultivated rather than wild forms.

Columela, in De re rustica (first century), mentions Trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek), Vicia ervilia (bitter vetch) and Lathyrus cicera (vetchling or flat pod pea), referring to their use, soil requirements, tillage and sowing dates. He refers specifically to L. cicera as it is cultivated in what is today Andalusia for feeding oxen as a replacement for V. ervilia—in the form of milled grains, moistened with water and mixed with straw - also stating that it is not an unpleasant food for humans. Libro de agricultura by Abu Zacarla (twelfth century) also mentions T. foenum-graecum and V. ervilia, referring to their soil requirements, methods and dates of sowing, fertilization and types of use in animal feeding as well as describing their use as a human medicine and other uses. In Agricultura general, by Alonso de Herrera (1513), V. ervilia and L. sativus are also mentioned, with different cultivation techniques and methods of use for feeding livestock and treating ailments recommended. L. sativus is used in the human diet in a similar way to chickpeas and is mixed with other grains to make bread.

Table 10 sets out the origin and distribution of the wild or cultivated form of the various species. Because of their marginal character, there are no data on a worldwide basis relating to the cultivated area of this group of legumes. Chickling vetch (L. sativus) is widely grown in India, with an area of 1.6 million ha referred to by Duke (1981). Vetchling (L. cicera) is currently grown only in Spain, although it was formerly grown throughout southwestern Europe. Fenugreek (T. foenum-graecum) is cultivated in the Mediterranean region, the Near East, Ethiopia, India and southern California. In North Africa, it has been grown for fodder around the Saharan oases from very early times. Bitter vetch (V. ervilia) is grown in Asiatic Turkey, central and northern Spain and other countries of the Mediterranean region and western United States; the seed is exported to the United Kingdom and other countries for feed, especially for sheep. There are barely any references to one-leaved vetch (V. monanthos) or Narbonne vetch (V. narbonensis), in spite of the fact that both species, particularly the former, were widely cultivated in the Mediterranean in past times. Figure 34 shows the regressive pattern of cultivation of these legumes in Spain; some of them are practically on the verge of extinction.

Table 10. Origin, distribution of cultivation and ecology of grain legumes

Species Origin Distribution Climate Soils
Lathyrus sativus L. (2n=14) Mediterranean, central Asia Central, southern and eastern Europe, India, Iran, South America Suited to dry climates although tolerates an excess of rain. Annual precipitation: 320-1 360 mm. Annual mean temperature: 13°C Suited to poor soils, it tolerates heavy, clayey soils. Sensitive to acid soils
Lathyrus cicera L. (2n=14) Mediterranean, western Asia Southern and eastern Europe Near East North Africa Tolerates cold and frosts in the Mediterranean region, with autumn sowing; resistant to drought in the spring Suited to poor soils, not too damp or saturated. Prefers heavy, well-limed soils with alkaline pH
Trigonella foenum-graecum L. (2n=16) Mediterranean, Near East Southern Europe North Africa, Near East India, Ethiopia, United States Suited to regions with moderate or light precipitation Development favourable during the cool, temperate growth season. In a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters, it is sown in winter and ripens in spring. Annual precipitation: 380-1 530 mm. Annual mean temperature: 16°C Grows well on drained, deep. Ioamy soils and on gravel and sandy soils III-suited to clayey, acid soils It is damaged by excessive soil dampness
Vicia ervilia (L.) Willd. (2n=14) Mediterranean, Near East Mediterranean, Turkey, United States Very resistant to cold during the growing period because of its sparse habit and branching and slow growth. Very resistant to drought, even in spring. A harvest is obtained even during excessively dry years. In favourable conditions, high yields are obtained. Annual precipitation: 3601 160 mm. Annual mean temperature: 14°C Suited to neutral or lightly acid soils Tolerates limy types of soil. provided they are not too clayey
Vicia monanthos (L.) Desf. (2n=14) Mediterranean Mediterranean Very resistant to low temperatures during vegetative development and to prolonged drought. Suitable crop for regions with late dry autumns. Sensitive to drought during the flowering period, which reduces the yield drastically. Annual precipitation: 350-1230 mm. Annual mean temperature: 11°C Suited to a wide range of soils provided they are not too damp Prefers soils that are not very clayey. that are deep and contain lime lime This is one of the legumes which requires the least soil fertility
Vicia narbonensis L. (2n=14) Mediterranean Central Europe Mediterranean, Near East Ethiopia, central Asia India Temperature requirement greater than the broad bean ( Vicia faba) and lesser humidity requirements. Replaces this species advantageously in warm dry areas. It does not tolerate cold, and is damaged by frost The most suitable soils are loose and sandy deep and with a good lime content. Tolerates clayey soils that are not too damp
Sources: Duke, 1981; Mateo Box, 1960; Pascual, 1978; Villax, 1963.

Changes in the cultivated area of legume species for animal feed in Spain
Figure 34. Changes in the cultivated area of legume species for animal feed in Spain

Composition and Use

Table 11 sets out the seed composition of the species studied. Protein content ranges between 20 and 30 percent and the fat content is generally very low except in the case of fenugreek (T. foenum-graecum). As in the other legumes, lysine is the most favourable amino acid and methionine is the most limiting. Several antinutritional properties are also present in the grain (Table 12). Chickling vetch and vetchling (L. sativus and L. cicera) contain a neurotoxic amino acid called ODAP (b-N-oxalyl-L-a-b-diaminopropionic acid) which causes neurolathyrism in humans and animals. This disease causes paralysis of the lower joints through neurological lesions brought about by degeneration of the spinal cord, particularly in equine stock, if the seed is eaten continually for months as the main component of the diet. In extreme cases it even causes death. Occasional consumption is not harmful and does not appear to affect sheep, so stockfarmers use these legumes for gestating females, fattening lambs and serving males. Macerating or soaking the seed in water, followed by cooking and treatment at high temperatures, seems to inactivate the lathyrogenic component, preventing its toxicity. Chickling vetch (L. sativus), which has a white flower and seeds, has a lower ODAP content. In some localities of northern Spain, selected white chickling vetch is traditionally eaten because of its lower content of lathyrogenic substances. There is a negative correlation between the total protein content of the Lathyrus and its ODAP content, which is of interest for improving varieties. The ODAP content of chickling vetch grown in Spain is lower than that of Asiatic chickling vetch. It has also been shown that the ODAP content of L. cicera is lower than that of L. sativus (0.146 and 0.205 percent, respectively).

Table 11. Composition of grain legume seeds

    Amino acids   Total
Species Proteins Lysine Methionine Fat Fibre Ash
  (Percentage of weight)
Lathyrus sativus L. 25-28 1.84-2.47 0.1-0.15 0.6-1.9 55-61 4-15 3
Lathyrus cicera L. 25-27 -- -- 1-1.3 56 6 3
Trigonella foenum-graecum L. 23-30 1.48-2.3 0.35 6-8 55 8-10 3.6-4.3
Vicia ervilia (L.) Willd. 17-21 1.53-2.02 0.37 1.3-2 61-64 4-6 2.4-3
Vicia monanthos (L.) Desf. 22 1.29 0.25 1.6 60 4.8 3.3
Vicia narbonensis L. 23-25 1.44-1.76 0.11-0.18 1-1.5 53 7.5-10 2.7-2.9
Sources: Duke, 1981; Franco Jubete, 1989; Gómez Cabrera, 1983: Mateo Box, 1960; Villax, 1963.

Table 12. Antinutritional factors of grain legumes

Species Antinutritional factors Remarks
Lathyrus sativus L. b-N-oxalyl-L-a- b-diaminopropionic acid (ODAP), trypsin inhibitors, hydrocyanic acid, maltose, saponins, quercitin, flavins Neurolathyrism
Lathyrus cicera L. ODAP Neurolathyrism (content less than L. sativus)
Trigonella foenum-graecum L. Complex polysaccharides (gums and mucilages), trypsin inhibitors, sapogenins Contains numerous chemical components of interest to the pharmaceutical, food, perfume and cosmetics industries (diosgenin mucilages, coumarin, lecithin, etc.)
Vicia ervilia (L.) Willd. Cyanogenic glucoside, canavanine, trypsin inhibitors  
Vicia monanthos (L.) Desf Cyanogenic glucoside, canavanine Cyanogenic glucoside  
Vicia narbonensis L. Cyanogenic glucoside  

Sources: Arora, 1983; Harborne, Boulter and Turner, 1971; Gómez Cabrera, 1983; Mateo Box, 1960; Villax, 1963.

Fenugreek (T. foenum-graecum) has a high content of gums and mucilages (around 28 percent) which makes its direct use in the diet of monogastric species difficult. It contains other substances which give the plant an unpleasant smell, which permeates all its surroundings and is conveyed to the meat and milk of animals that eat it.

The antinutritional factors of the species of the genus Vicia, in addition to affecting the nutritional value of the grain, can cause pathological changes of varying extent in animals that consume them, especially birds.

The seed is the part mainly used in this group of legumes, although they are also grown as green fodder or hay and play an important role as a green manure, which is dug in at the end of the winter to improve soil fertility. The straw of these legumes is of high nutritional value for livestock.

Among the entire group, it is chickling vetch (L. sativus) which is most used for human consumption, in the form of green vegetables; the dry seed especially is soaked in water and boiled or else husked and made into flour for mixing with cereals and making bread or porridges. The latter method of preparation is usual in India (for dhal), and it was a popular recipe during times of scarcity and famine in the Spanish regions of Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura, where many serious cases of neurolathyrism occurred as a result of it being consumed in the wrong way in the 1940s. The current Spanish Food Code prohibits human consumption of chickling vetch seed and the products obtained from its preparation. Mixtures with oilseed cake are used for sheep although, in Spain, its use in animal nutrition is not very widespread because of the fear of lathyrism.

Vetchling (L. cicera) is used as both a fodder plant and grain producer. The name comuña is given to the mixture of cereal grains, legume grains or both (as well as to their combined cultivation) which provides a complete food for livestock. Its etymological origin is from "común" in its meaning of mixture, referring to the mix of seeds obtained when cleaning the grain and which contaminate the main grain, generally wheat. The combination, which was of very variable content, was first formed from spontaneous plants which the farmer improved by introducing other species with a higher yield or quality. In the Spanish region of Tierra de Campos, vetchling began to dominate in comuña as a consequence of mechanical selection, since its grain was bigger than that of the vetches and tares, the two names used nowadays without distinction. There is therefore an ancestral knowledge of the use of comuña and its lathyrogenic side-effects. The use of L. cicera for sheep does not pose any lathyrism problems if doses do not exceed 50 percent of the ration in concentrates.

Fenugreek (T. foenum-graecum) is primarily grown for the production of its seed. Its strong smell somewhat discourages livestock from eating it. It must be used in low doses, since it imparts an unpleasant flavour to meat and milk and also causes animals to put on weight, which is not suitable for draught animals. Livestock dealers sometimes use it to tone animals up and give them a transient good appearance. It is also grown as a condiment, an essential oil being extracted for flavouring different foods and drinks, such as cheeses, sweetmeats, pickles and liqueurs. It is also used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry because of the vast range of chemical products that it contains. The plant also has insecticidal properties and is used in stored grains as a repellent. Popular medicine attributes tonic and vermifugal properties to its seeds, the mucilaginous components being used to treat stomach ailments. In Hindu medicine, the seed extract is used because of its cardiotonic, diuretic, antiphlogistic, hypoglucemic and antihypertensive properties. It has active ingredients which act on the metabolism of fats and cause weight loss in women. In India, consumption of the seed is believed to stimulate lactation.

The species of the genus Vicia are traditionally used for feeding ruminants, particularly sheep, but they are practically unused for monogastric species in view of the seed's toxicity and its negative effect on growth. Bitter vetch (V. ervilia) must not exceed 25 percent of the ration in sheep and cattle feed. One-leaved vetch (V. monanthos) is more readily eaten by sheep, but refused by other types of livestock because of its slightly bitter taste. Birds, with the exception of pigeons, do not take to it. The seed of V. narbonensis can be used as feed for cattle which accept it more readily than pigs and sheep, provided it is fed to them in ground form. Like common vetch (V. sativa), it has a slightly bitter taste which animals grow accustomed to, but which can be passed on into milk.

Botany and Ecology

Table 13 describes the main botanical characteristics of the various leguminous species studied. Because of their origin, distribution and cultivation, they are suited to Mediterranean ecological conditions. Their cycle takes place in the autumn to spring period and they are resistant to cold and frosts as well as drought, especially in the final phase of cultivation. They are suited to poor soils and frequently to marginal ones (Table 10).

Table 13. Botanical characteristics of grain legumes

Species Structure of the plant Flowers Pods Seeds
Lathyrus sativus L. Branched. Stems suberect and climbing. Height: 40-90 cm. Main root: 50-70 cm. Secondary roots very numerous Solitary, axillar with a long peduncle. Colour bluish-purple, pink or white 2.5-5 cm long, wide and flattened. Contain 1-5 seeds Wedge-shaped. Cream or greyish brown, sometimes dark speckled and with a small hilum on the wider edge
Lathyrus cicera L. Smaller than L. sativus. Height: 30-50 cm. Deep taproot (80-120 cm) and fewer secondary roots Solitary, reddish colour Typically grooved with 3-5 seeds Similar to those of L. sativus but less angular and more rounded. Greyish colour with dark spots. 17000-18000 grains/kg
Trigonella foenum-graecum L. Stems erect. Height: up to 40-80 cm. Branched only if there is a high planting density. The plant and seeds have a characteristic strong odour Solitary or in pairs, axillar and sessile. Colour yellowish white, stained violet at the base of the corolla 7.5-15 cm long erect and sometimes curved. Longitudinal veins with a long point (2-4 cm). Contain 10-20 seeds Oblong, quadrangular, sometimes compressed. Yellow or light-chestnut colour. Approximately 50000 grains/kg
Vicia ervilia (L.) Willd. Low height (20-70 cm) and little branching. Very trailing habit. Highly developed root system Inflorescence with 1-3 pendulous flowers joined at the axis by a small pedicel. Whitish colour sometimes with a violet tinge 2-3 cm. Seeds are prominent as the valves adhere to them closely. 2-4 seeds per pod Tetrahedral, sometimes angular. Light colour, from cream to reddish brown. 25000-35000 grains/kg
Vicia monanthos (L.) Desf. Trailing stems, polygonal in cross-section. Height: up to 80 cm. Deep, very branched roots Uniflorous inflorescence with pedicellate, pendulous flowers. Whitish colour Flattened, from 3-4 cm long. Light-brown colour. 2-5 seeds per pod Similar to the lentil but smaller and less flattened. Colour variable, from light, pinkish yellow to dark chestnut, with black dots. 10000-20000 grains/kg
Vicia narbonensis L. Stems erect and branched of quadrangular cross-section. Height: up to 70-80 cm. Deep well-developed roots Inflorescence with large violet or reddish flowers and different contours in the various parts of the corolla 5-7 cm long, wide, ending in a short, curved point. Almost black in colour. 6-7 seeds Spherical with dents, 4000-5000 grains/kg
Sources: Duke, 1981; Mateo Box, 1960; Villax, 1963.

Genetic Diversity

There is very little information on the genetic diversity, infraspecific variability and relations of these species with other related wild species. Few cultivars are known or well defined. Only limited areas of cultivation remain in some areas of the world and, in many of them, the individuals are threatened. The material available in gene banks is scarce. Consequently, there is the risk that important plant material obtained over thousands of years of cultivation might disappear, while only a few isolated works on classification and selection are to be found.

In the species Lathyrus sativus, there are a great number of varieties and types which differ in flower colour, form of growth and colour and shape of the seeds. Two varieties can be distinguished: lesser white chickling vetch and greater white chickling vetch. The first is possibly the original form of the species. Greater white chickling vetch is perhaps a selection of the former, featuring bigger seeds, a lighter colour and a more flattened shape. In India, 56 types have been identified. As in almost all this species group, the types sown are heterogeneous populations of botanical varieties. The centres of diversity are central Asia and the Mediterranean.

L. cicera is considered to be a semi-domesticated plant, with local varieties and spontaneous plants existing in Spanish cultivation regions, especially in the centre and north. There are local, primitive indigenous varieties in Castilla-León made up of very heterogeneous and widely varying material suited to adverse conditions. This material has traditionally been cultivated in combination with other plants (comuna) and its domestication has been rare, in spite of the fact that the plant has been grown for thousands of years. The main changes introduced in these varieties are: a more erect and compact habit of the plant, lesser dehiscence of pods and greater seed size. The wild populations of L. cicera, which are abundant in Spain, have characteristics very close to those of the cultivated plants. Domestication of L. cicera occurred in southern France and Spain when cultivation of chickling vetch (L. sativus) spread to those countries from its area of origin and domestication, which it subsequently replaced. Descriptors have been proposed for L. cicera and three botanical varieties are recognized: pedunculatus, foliolatus and palentinus.

Improvement programmes have been designed for fenugreek (T. foenum-graecum) to increase the yield of diosgenin, a steroid which is present in the seed and which is used in medicine, as well as to study the behaviour of a spontaneous mutant with earlier flowering and bigger sized seed. Twenty-nine different ecotypes have been recognized. The centre of diversity of fenugreek is situated in the western Mediterranean and the Near East.

The cultivated types and varieties of bitter vetch (V. ervilia) are very heterogeneous populations which frequently appear mixed with other cultivated or spontaneous species of Vicia. In Spain, the variety most used is common red bitter vetch but, in recent years, four selected varieties have been recorded. Comparative tests between these varieties and local controls, carried out in central Spain, have demonstrated the higher yield of the selected material. The centre of diversity of the bitter vetches is situated in the western Mediterranean and in the Near East.

Also in the case of one-leaved vetch (V. monanthos), the cultivated varieties are botanically very heterogeneous populations from which selections, lines and ecotypes adaptable to different environments could be obtained. In Spain, two types of one-leaved vetch can be distinguished: the white seed type and the black seed type, depending on the different shades of the background colours of the seed, the black type being grown in a greater proportion and the white type more rarely. The western Mediterranean, the Near East and the Euro-Siberian regions are quoted as centres of diversity.

Vicia narbonensis is considered to be a species very close to Vicia faba. It was once even thought that this was the original form of broad bean, although cytogenetic studies showed that this theory was without foundation. It is thought that the var. serratifolia is the origin of the current forms of V. narbonensis. Since ancient times, attempts have been made to cross V. faba and V. narbonensis to obtain an interspecific hybrid that combines the valuable characteristics of both species. In recent years, these crossings have been possible through genetic manipulation and through the embryo recovery technique, enabling valuable material to be obtained when using the appropriate genotypes as parents. Compared with V. faba, V. narbonensis has a high level of resistance to aphids (Aphis fabae), with intraspecific variations for resistance, hence it shows good agronomic potential. It also seems to have greater resistance to broomrape (Orobanche spp.), which is why farmers have grown it in the past.

Table 14 sets out the existing collections of germplasm of the legume species studied, according to the country and institution which keeps them. Probably the most complete collection is to be found in Spain. According to the most recent data, there are 49 lines of L. sativus from Spain and Portugal; 92 lines of L. cicera from Spain; 177 lines of V. ervilia from Spain and Portugal; 76 lines of V. monanthos from Spain; and ten lines of V. narbonensis.

Table 14. Collections of grain legume germplasm

Country Species Institution
Afghanistan Vicia ervilia Plant Research and Soil Science Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Kabul
Australia Lathyrus sativus Department of Agriculture, Adelaide, South Australia
Bulgaria Vicia ervilia Institute of Plant Introduction and Genetic Resources, Sadovo
CIS Lathyrus spp. N.I. Vavilov All-Union Institute of Plant Industry, St Petersburg
Cyprus Vicia ervilia Agricultural Research Institute, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Nicosia
Czechoslovakia Lathyrus spp. Plant Breeding Research Institute of Technical Crops and Legumes, Tumemce
Germany Vicia ervilia Vicia narbonensis Lathyrus spp. Institut für Pflanzenbau und Pflanzenzüchtung, Braunschweig; Zentralinstitut für Genetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung Gatersleben
Ethiopia Trigonella foenum-graecum Plant Genetic Resources Center, Agriculture Research Institute, Addis Ababa
France Vicia narbonensis Station d'amélioration des plantes, INRA, Dijon
Iran Trigonella foenum-graecum Seed and Plant Improvement Institute, Plant Genetic Resources Division, Karaj
Pakistan Lathyrus spp. Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad
Portugal Vicia ervilia Estação Agronómica Nacional, INIA, Oeiras
Spain Lathyrus cicera Lathyrus sativus Vicia ervilia Vicia monanthos Vicia narbonensis Vicia ervilla Centro de Conservación de Recursos Fitogenéticos, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Madrid Estación Experimental del Aula Dei, CSIC, Zaragoza
Turkey Lathyrus spp. Aegean Agricultural Research Institute, Menmen, Izmir
Source: Esquinas, 1983.

Cultivation Practices

The cultivation techniques of these legumes are very rudimentary, given their marginal character, the small yields obtained and the little benefit which they bring the grower. Soil preparation is reduced and no type of fertilization is applied, as sowing is carried out in autumn or at the beginning of winter Nor is any type of herbicide applied. Harvesting is sometimes done manually and threshing is carried out on the threshing floor, although it is frequently done with a motorized reaper, followed by threshing and cleaning and, less often, with a combine harvester.

Table 15 sets out the traditional cultivation techniques for each species. Some tests on new cultivation techniques have been carried out in Spain recently. For L. cicera in addition to a better selection of seed, it has been proposed that 125 kg of seed per hectare be used and herbicides applied (propyzamide + diuron or trifluralin + linuron), while harvesting should be done by reaping and leaving the crop in rows to ripen, or else using a modified cereal harvester. For bitter vetch (V. ervilia) which, among these species, has the biggest cultivated area in Spain and of which selected varieties exist, the use of herbicides (alachlore + linuron, metholachlore + promethrin, cynazine or metazole) is recommended, as is harvesting with a cereal harvester during the first hours of the morning and harvesting only in one direction to avoid the problem of grain loss.

Table 15. Traditional cultivation techniques of grain legumes1

Species Tillage Fertilization Sowing Herbicides Harvesting
Lathyrus sativus L. and L. cicera L. First tillage (sometimes with cultivator or harrow) None (sometimes 100-200 kg/ha of 18% superphosphate) In autumn, after the first rains: 150-200 kg/ha of seed (sometimes barley is used as a support at 15-20 kg/ha). With cereal drill, 15-40 cm between rows None (Avena sp., Papaver sp. and crucifers) With cereal harvester (losses 20-30% because of dehiscence and plant's low habit). Also cut with motor scythe (in rows, dried) and harvester with pick-up
Trigonella foenum-graecum L. Harrowing and rolling None (sometimes 100-150 kg of 18% superphosphate) In October: 110-130 kg/ ha of seed. With cereal drill, 15-18 cm between rows None (Avena sp., Papaver sp. and Veronica sp.) With cereal harvester (difficulties from flattening and grain drop)
Vicia ervilia (L.) Willd. Harrowing and/or cultivator and rolling None (exceptionally 100 kg/ ha of 18% superphosphate) In October-December: 100-130 kg/ha of seed. With cereal drill, 15-20 cm between rows, sometimes broadcast None (Avena sp., Lolium sp., Papaver sp., Cirsium sp., Veronica sp., Poligonum sp. and crucifers). Very sensitive to hormonal herbicides of cereals which cause serious damage With cereal harvester and motor scythe, threshing and cleaning. Sometimes manual, with threshing on floor
Vicia monanthos (L.) Desf. Tilling, harrowing and rolling None In October-December: 95-100 kg/ha of seed. With cereal drill, 15-20 cm between rows None (Avena sp. Lolium sp., Papaver sp., Matricaria sp. and Cirsium sp.) Motor scythe threshing and cleaning. Sometimes pulled up by hand, with threshing on floor
Note: There are no data on Vicia narbonensis, as its cultivation is practically non-existent in Spain.

Table 16 shows the grain yields of each species in different regions and countries, both in normal cultivation conditions and in trials.

Table 16. Grain yield of various legumes

Species (kg/ha) Region Remarks Authors
Lathyrus sativus L.
  500-2600 Spain Cultivation Guerrero & López Bellido, 1983
  1000-1500 - Cultivation Duke, 1981
  312 India Cultivation Duke, 1981
  2126-6242 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989
Lathyrus cicera L.
  1500-2500 Southern Europe Cultivation Villax, 1963
  1580-3037 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989
Trigonella foenum-graecum L.
  750-3800 Spain Cultivation Guerrero & López Bellido, 1983
  500-3320 - Trials Duke, 1981
  3700 Great Britain Trials Duke, 1981
  1000 Morocco Trials Duke, 1981
  800-1500 Western Mediterranean basin Cultivation Villax, 1963
  338-1490 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989
Vicia ervilia L.
  400-2200 Spain Cultivation Guerrero & López Bellido, 1983
  1000-200 Western Mediterranean basin Cultivation Villax, 1963
  1299-2830 Northern Spain Trials Various
  2600-3000 Central Spain Trials Various
  1580-2358 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989
Vicia monanthos L.
  400-1800 Spain Cultivation Guerrero & López Bellido, 1983
  106-249 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989
Vicia narbonensis L.
  1070-3307 Northern Spain Trials Franco Jubete, 1989

Prospects For Improvement

Since the appearance of modern agriculture, biological, technical and economic limitations have caused the present marginalization of these cultivated legumes, the situation of which varies according to the geographical area. Of the countries of the Mediterranean basin, particular reference will be made here to Spain.

The biological limitations lie in the absence of genetic improvement in a plant material that is extremely diverse and has been cultivated for thousands of years, which is evident from the stability of yields during the last 50 years (Figure 35), depending on the ecological conditions (the differences in the trend of barley yield during the same period can be seen)

Changes in the grain yield of legume species for animal feed grown in Spain
Figure 35. Changes in the grain yield of legume species for animal feed grown in Spain

The presence of toxic elements or antinutritional factors, the elimination or reduction of which would have to be tackled in breeding programmes, is a restriction on its use in human consumption and particularly in animal feed. Although the list of pests and diseases that attack this group of legumes is very extensive, there are important gaps owing to the low extent of its cultivation and the paucity of studies carried out. However, generally speaking, attack by pathogens is not found to be a serious limitation on cultivation.

Fenugreek (T. foenum-graecum) has been found to be tolerant to insects and diseases, chickling vetch (L. sativus) to rust and viruses, and V. narbonensis to Aphis fabae. Among the pests and diseases of economic importance are Aphis craccivora and Myzus persicae for fenugreek and Ascochyta pisi and A. orobi for the chickling vetches in India. In Spain, the major pests are aphids (not specified) in fenugreek and one-leaved vetch; Bruchus spp. in V. ervilia, L. sativus and L. cicera; and Apion spp. in L. sativus and L. cicera. The major diseases are rusts (Uromyces pisi or U. fabae) in one-leaved vetch, and nematodes (unspecified) in V. ervilia.

From the agronomic point of view, the precariousness of the techniques used has prevented yields from increasing. The use of such techniques is unavoidable because of the lack of response of cultivation to new practices and the low profitability of their application. The difficulty of mechanizing harvesting, given the aerial structure of the plant and its propensity to shedding its grain on ripening, is undoubtedly the factor of greatest importance. Also, competition from wheat has been a limiting factor on yields when suitable herbicides have not been used. For these reasons, there has been an increase in cereal monoculture and in the area of fallow, while new crops have been introduced on fallow land, for example sunflower, which has been extensively promoted by the extractive industry through the spread of techniques, machinery loans, the granting of advances to farmers and guaranteed purchases. Moreover, changes in irrigation have given rise to the introduction of much more profitable crops such as beetroot and maize.

Traditionally, there has not been a policy for the protection of these legumes (whereas there has been for cereals), nor any marketing channels; there have been shortages in regulation of the supply and the producer sector has been separated from the feedstuffs industry. The latter has been developed under the protection of measures that have favoured soya meal: low-price imports and all types of facilities and aid to producers. As an example, in its common organization of the market, the EEC has recently only provided for aid in the case of fenugreek production, completely disregarding the rest of this legume group.

Within the framework of a sustainable agriculture and the Common Agricultural Policy that seeks to encourage alternative crops, the several million hectares of fallow land in Spain could benefit from promotion of the cultivation of these legumes, which are sources of protein and which improve soil fertility. The role of the legumes in soil conservation and environmental improvement should not be forgotten, nor should their non-food uses, such as the production of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics in the case of fenugreek.

In addition, thorough research needs to be carried out in the short and medium term to provide a knowledge and evaluation of the plant material and its genetic improvement, as well as to develop more suitable cultivation techniques for increasing production. Such techniques would then be passed on to farmers, encouraging the cultivation of the different species according to the different cultivation systems and regions. The animal feedstuffs industry must take part in this process, gradually integrating the utilization of these raw materials into their processes.


last update Friday, June 12, 1998 by aw