Two New Varieties of Birdsfoot Trefoil Recommended

Birdsfoot trefoil and sainfoin are used in mixtures for perennial hay meadows and for tannin-containing fodder. Agroscope is adding two new cultivars of birdsfoot trefoil to the ‘List of Recommended Varieties of Forage Plants’, whilst there is no change in the case of sainfoin.

A perennial species, birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus L.) is undemanding, drought-tolerant and winter-hardy. Its strengths come to the fore in hay meadows with two to three uses per year, e.g. in standard mixtures (SM) 450, SM 451 and SM 455. In intensively used forage mixtures such as SM 481, it is superseded over time by white clover (Trifolium repens L.).
Previously used in hay meadows, sanfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia Scop.) also requires low-intensity management. Today, this warmth-loving species is chiefly used to produce tannin-containing fodder to support the control of gastro-intestinal parasites in ruminants. A good example thereof is SM 326. Sainfoin provides over half of the annual yield in the hay cut, whilst the subsequent regrowths yield less.

Variety testing with sainfoin: field trials in plots allow precise observations. (Photo: Daniel Suter, Agroscope)

Birdsfoot trefoil and sainfoin tested in the field

The suitability for cultivation of five varieties of birdsfoot trefoil and four of sainfoin was tested over a three-year period on small plots at five sites on the Swiss Central Plateau, as well as on two high-altitude sites in the case of birdsfoot trefoil and one high-altitude site in the case of sainfoin. Yield, vigour (lushness, density and evenness of the plant stand), juvenile development, competitive ability, persistence, winter-hardiness and resistance to leaf diseases were assessed. In addition, birdsfoot trefoil was assessed for suitability for cultivation at higher altitudes, and sainfoin for resistance to lodging.

New cultivars added to birdsfoot trefoil range

Among the candidate cultivars, ‘Lotella’ and ‘Maleják’ made positive impressions. The latter shone in juvenile development, followed by ‘Lotella’. Both candidates impressed with solid achievements in vigour and competitive ability. Whereas ‘Lotella’ outranked ‘Maleják’ in yield, persistence and suitability for cultivation at higher altitudes, ‘Maleják’ beat ‘Lotella’ for winter-hardiness. Both new cultivars also exhibited good resistance to leaf diseases. Despite this, neither of them managed to achieve the edge – required for recommendation – over the sole recommended variety ‘Lotar’, which held onto first place as a result. However, since a single recommended variety is not sufficient for the provision of quality varieties, ‘Lotella’ and ‘Maleják’ will both be added to the range. Unfortunately, the remaining candidates ‘Fabio’ and ‘Altus’ failed to impress.

No new recommendations for sainfoin

The only candidate variety of sainfoin, ‘Ambra’, came last in terms of performance, and cannot be recommended. However, the already-recommended varieties ‘Perly’, ‘Perdix’ and ‘Višnovský’ will remain on the ‘List of Recommended Varieties of Forage Plants’.

Agroscope variety recommendations

Agroscope regularly tests varieties and makes up-to-date and reliable information available to the Swiss agricultural sector with its ‘List of Recommended Varieties of Forage Plants’. The latter forms the basis for top-quality seed mixtures and serves as the variety reference for Switzerland’s seed sector. This ensures that breeding advances reach practitioners with as little delay as possible.


  • Birdsfoot trefoil and sainfoin are legumes for low-to-medium-input forage production.
  • Between 2019 and 2021, Agroscope tested a total of five varieties of birdsfoot trefoil and four varieties of sanfoin.
  • The new birdsfoot trefoil varieties ‘Lotella’ and ‘Maleják’ delivered solid performances for all traits and are now recommended.
  • The only candidate cultivar of sainfoin, ‘Ambra’, failed to impress, and is thus not recommended.
  • The already recommended varieties of both species retain their recommendation. Both species therefore have three recommended varieties at their disposal.
  • The use of recommended varieties enables the best-possible forage mixtures for Swiss conditions and brings breeding advances to practitioners, which is of direct benefit for our agricultural sector.
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