Panhandle Growers, Co-op Developing Yellow Field Peas as a New Crop - UNL CropWatch, May 10, 2013

Panhandle Growers, Co-op Developing Yellow Field Peas as a New Crop - UNL CropWatch, May 10, 2013

Field peas

Field peas being grown in early June 2012 in a no-till system. (Photo courtesy of Mark Watson)

May 10, 2013

Field peas early May 2012

Field peas in May that had been planted in a no-till system. (Photo series courtesy of Mark Watson)

Field pea field day 2012

Field peas in late June. Area growers attended information meetings and field days in 2012 to learn more about growing field peas in western Nebraska before committing to production contracts for 2013.

field peas July

Field pea harvest in July 2012.

Yellow field peas are on track to become a new economic engine in western Nebraska if the plans of about 80 producers and a bean co-op prove true.

This year about 25,000 acres in western Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, and Wyoming were planted to field peas (Pisum sativum) under a new initiative and contract with Stateline Producers Cooperative in Bridgeport and Gering, said John Lightcap, Stateline manager.

The high-protein, yellow edible peas are a legume being planted between corn and wheat crops or as an alternative to summer fallow. They are being marketed for human consumption and for livestock feed.

Edible peas, which are planted in early spring and harvested in July, use 9-10 inches of water to produce 25-30 bu/ac of yield, said John Thomas, UNL Extension Educator in Box Butte County. Field peas had previously been grown in western Nebraska to a smaller extent and trucked to an out-of-state processor or used as a cover crop or for livestock feed. With sales contracts from the co-op and a means for segregated handling and storage, this year field peas can be grown for a larger overseas market for human consumption.

Nationally, the number of acres planted to dry edible peas increased by 81% from 2011 to 2012, from 362,000 acres to 654,000 acres, according to a USDA report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. During the same period harvested yield more than doubled, increasing from 5,625,000 cwt in 2011 to 11,453,000 cwt in 2012, according to the USDA report. The top five producing states in 2012 were Montana, North Dakota, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon.

Initiating a New Crop

Stateline’s interest in developing field pea production dates back to February 2012 when they were approached by one of their bean growers, Mark Watson of Alliance.

“Would you have any interest in processing edible peas?” asked Watson, who had become an advocate after trying a variety of other alternative crops (chick peas, pinto beans, and proso millet) in his rotation. Watson said he found field peas to be a steadier crop than chick peas, which offered higher rewards for higher risk, and its production cycle worked well in rotation. Field peas are harvested in July, allowing the field more time than with other crops to recover soil moisture before being planted to wheat in the fall.

The Nebraska processor was interested, but to add the infrastructure and storage needed for commercial production, Stateline needed grower commitment. Through 2012 they hosted member and grower information meetings and in spring 2013 got the number of contracts they needed to “ramp up” the co-op facility in Bridgeport. They acquired seed from northern states and Canada for their growers for this year and have planted plots to test which pea varieties may be best suited to the soils, climate, water and cropping practices of the area for future years.

UNL Researching Variety Options

UNL also planted field pea variety trials this spring.

Most of the commercial field pea acreage in the state was planted with a single variety, said Dipak Santra, UNL Extension alternative crops specialist. The lack of diverse traits found in multiple varieties can pose a high production risk due to potential disease and insect problems, he said.

To provide research-based information about additional variety choices for the region's producers, Santra initiated a Yellow Pea Variety Trial at the High Plains Ag Lab near Sidney. The trial was planted with 14 varieties (including the leading variety planted in Nebraska in 2013) from multiple sources with multiple genetics (Pulse USA, Meridian Seed, Northern Great, Legume Logic, and USDA-ARS Grain Legume Breeding Unit in Pullman, Wash.). A pea variety plot tour will be conducted with the wheat plot tour in late June. (A specific date will be announced soon in CropWatch.)

"We expect to find additional varieties with different genetic backgrounds and similar or better yield potential compared to the major variety in the region," Santra said. "The variety performance results will be published through UNL extension publication outlets (Seed Guide, CropWatch, etc)."

For more information about the variety trial and pea production, contact Santra at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center.

Potential for Value-Added Processing

Dry pea

Split yellow field peas. (Photo courtesy Stateline Co-op)

“We’re in the process of expanding our storage capability to provide segregated storage for 300,000 bushels this year,” Lightcap said. “We hope to have 600,000 to 800,000-bushel storage capacity eventually.”

Before this year, Stateline dealt only with dry edible beans, cleaning and processing 40-50 million pounds of beans annually, Lightcap said.

As the field pea business grows, Stateline hopes to add processing to keep more value-added income in state. Much of the U.S. harvest is currently sold to the U.S. government to provide high-protein, non-animal food aid to foreign countries. Since the peas are often used in areas where fuel supplies are limited, they are split to cook faster and use less fuel. Adding a splitting facility at Bridgeport could help keep that income in the state. Later, Stateline also hopes to provide more value-added processing by adding a grinding facility to produce pea flour, a non-gluten alternative to wheat flour.

“I’m pretty excited about the economic boost this could mean for this region,” said Watson, who sees potential for 200,000-300,000 acres of field peas eventually being planted in the area.

Additional Resources

A UNL Extension publication, Pea Production in the High Plains (EC187), covers pea biology, varieties, pest management, harvesting, marketing, and other factors to consider in commercial pea production. This 2006 resource was produced cooperatively with South Dakota State University Extension and the University of Wyoming.

If you're growing field peas for the first time or considering adding this pulse crop to your rotation, see this spring 2013 article by Ruth Beck, a South Dakota State University extension agronomy field specialist.

Also see this September 2012 CropWatch article by UNL extension educator Liz Sarno about UNL research on raising field peas for livestock and as a green manure cover crop.

Lisa Jasa
CropWatch Editor