Researchers report good and bad news from their work on pigeon pea, a very drought-tolerant, tropical annual legume.

The good news: Pigeon pea has the potential to the fill the forage gap in late summer and early fall. In USDA-ARS studies, pigeon pea yields ranged from 1,000 lbs. of dry matter/acre in July to 11,300 lbs. in early October.

The bad news: Pigeon pea seed that's adapted to the U.S. is hard to find.

“The University of Georgia (UG) has produced more than 14 tons of pigeon pea seed from four varieties developed here,” says Sharad Phatak, a University of Georgia horticulturist in Tifton. “However, these varieties, which are adapted to the Southeast, have not been officially released, so seed is not available to the general public.”

Pigeon pea seed can be imported, but those varieties may not be suitable for our climate, says Phatak, who's filled requests for small amounts of seed from researchers and farmers in several states.

Phatak is collaborating with UG animal scientists and area farmers to learn more about the nitrogen-fixing legume.

“Cattle will graze pigeon pea when it's 12-18 in. tall. After that, they'll leave it alone for awhile; then, they'll come back and graze again after the pods are formed,” he explains.

Evaluating pigeon pea

At the USDA-ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, OK, agronomist Srinivas Rao has studied pigeon pea extensively.

“High-quality forage is often unavailable for Great Plains cattle producers from late July through late November because the quality and quantity of warm-season grasses declines and winter wheat forage isn't ready yet,” Rao says. “Pigeon pea could fill that void.”

Seasonal production patterns, yield and quality of three pigeon pea varieties obtained from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in India have been evaluated. Those varieties boast medium to long growing seasons and flower in 180-220 days.

“Those longer-duration varieties could be grazed or made into silage or hay. Shorter-duration varieties that flower in 120 days could work for both forage and seed production,” Rao says.

The researchers agree pigeon pea seed could be fed to livestock as a replacement for other protein, such as soybean meal. Pigeon pea seed has 22-25% crude protein. In the green stage, when the forage normally would be grazed, the protein content can reach 20%; in the later stages, it drops to 15-16%.

Pigeon pea should be seeded soon after wheat harvest in Oklahoma and other wheat-growing areas. It can be seeded from April to July in Georgia and surrounding states.