Peas Please! - Agrii - Connecting Agri-science with farming

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December 12, 2012

Peas Please!

A spring crop for ground that should have been in winter cereals or oilseed rape; which doesn’t need to be drilled before the land has had time to dry out; has minimal cash flow needs; and can be harvested early enough for a timely wheat or OSR entry next autumn.  

No, it’s not wishful thinking.  At least not to Peter Busfield of leading UK pulse production and processing specialists, Dunns.  He is convinced that combining peas in general and large blue peas in particular are the ideal way for growers to get back on the front foot after one of the most challenging autumns in living memory.

“Growers across the country are understandably desperate to put the vagaries of the autumn and early winter weather – not to mention the plague of slugs – behind them and get a decent crop in the ground for next harvest,” he comments.

“But just about the worst thing they could do is wreck their prospects of a decent margin by muddling expensive extra seed into poor early spring seedbeds. Or grow something that will seriously interfere with next autumn’s drilling possibilities.
“This is why peas are the perfect solution. Both marrowfats and large blues offer far better and more reliable margin-earning opportunities than they ever used to. Especially when grown on one of our specialist added value contracts.

“The lowest growing cost and shortest cash flow period of almost any crop means minimal production risk. Even in the worst case of just half the typical 5t/ha yield and no human consumption premium, you’re likely to make a decent margin.  And in seven years out of 10 our growers find their premium-earning peas deliver the best gross margins of any spring crop at well over £1000/ha.

“Equally importantly, though, peas are a great fit agronomically,” explains Peter Busfield.
“You can drill them any time from the end of February through ‘til May so you can be sure of getting a decent seedbed. They’re the earliest spring crop to harvest so you’ll be able to combine early ripening varieties comfortably before your winter wheat

“Add to this excellent options for grass weed control – both ahead of sowing and in-crop – a good disease break, a far less favourable environment for slug breeding and, of course, the traditional nitrogen legacy, and you have a real rotational asset rather than just a stop-gap.

“Whether your ground should have gone into a winter cereal or oilseed rape, spring peas offer you the best possible way of getting it back into first wheat at the earliest opportunity and in the best condition. In my experience, there’s nothing else that can do this.”

Marrowfat peas tend to be preferred by many of Dunn’s long-standing growers for the premium canning and human food export markets served by the company’s industry-leading processing centre at Long Sutton.  However, Peter Busfield considers large blues a better general purpose pea for occasional growers; mainly because they are more flexible and easier to manage with minimal inputs and expertise.

Like marrowfats, large blue peas are commanding a good quality premium for both human consumption and micronised pet foods for the coming season. In association with UK breeder’s agents Agrii, Dunns added-value market buyback contracts for Daytona are, for instance, currently offering very attractive returns for a maximum of 10% bleached, 16% moisture and 2% admix.

“Colour is king for premium markets,” Peter points out. “That’s why we’re big fans of Daytona.  Like Kabuki on the marrowfat side, it offers the high colour retention that makes the full spec very much more reliable to achieve.

“It’s also the earliest ripening large blue on the Recommended List with the greatest standing ability at harvest and has a disease resistance second to none. Unlike many varieties too, we’ve yet to see problems with brown staining either. These characteristics make it particularly well-suited to non-specialist growers.”

Although orders have increased rapidly over the past month, in particular, unlike many other spring cropping options both blue and marrowfat pea seed supply currently remains reasonable thanks to good 2012 seed crops from specialist growers. However, with wheat planting difficulties continuing and increasing OSR establishment doubts, Peter Busfield advises growers to make early decisions to be sure of securing the necessary contracts and seed supplies.

Making the Most of Peas

Combining peas are not without their growing and harvesting challenges but Oxfordshire -based Agrii agronomist, Iain Richards who manages around 1000 acres of the crop annually has no doubt that Daytona, in particular, can be an extremely valuable addition to the rotation with the right agronomy.

“Daytona has proved its value in our extensive testing over several years,” he points out. “It can be harvested around a week before many other varieties to give a good entry for winter wheat or OSR, stands well at harvest and has strong resistance to both downy mildew and pea wilt.

“Like all peas, though, the variety rewards good quality seedbeds, effective weed management and attentive pest and disease control. With the market looking strong for next harvest, it’s well-worth taking care of peas these days. They certainly shouldn’t be the plant and forget crop of the past.”

With soil conditions at drilling more important than sowing date, Iain Richards advises growers to drill from early March to late April as soon as a decent seedbed can be created on ground free from compaction. Seed rates should be based on thousand grain weight to establish a target population of 70 plants/m2, bearing in mind that field losses in March can be double those from later sowings.

Downy mildew susceptible varieties will require a robust seed treatment, but otherwise a thiram dressing should be quite sufficient.

“As both grass and broad-leaved weed competition can be particularly damaging to peas,
I always like to get them off to a good clean start with pre-drilling Roundup and a quality pendimethalin or pendimethalin/imazamox pre-em where conditions allow,” he explains.
“Depending on the weed population, I follow-up this up with a suitable graminicide and then either MCPB or bentazone post-em.”

Iain Richards doesn’t wait for the post-em timing to get on with a pyrethroid if pea and bean weevil or thrips are a problem, dealing with them straight away to prevent serious crop setbacks. Later in the season he also treats for pea aphids and pea moth as soon as threshold levels are reached. And he sprays routinely for botrytis and ascochyta if conditions are warm and wet from flowering.

“I always advise including foliar manganese in at least one if not two of the post-flowering sprays,” he adds.   “In very deficient situations I suggest using a seed dressing too, given the problems marsh spot can cause for both performance and quality. It also pays to avoid molybdenum deficiency to maximise the crop’s nitrogen-fixing efficiency.”