Panhandle Growers, Co-op Developing Yellow Field Peas as a New Crop

5/27/2013 8:00:00 AM

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.

Peas an Alternative Crop

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 bushels an acre 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 percent 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 Producers Cooperative’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, Neb.

“Would you have any interest in processing edible peas?” asked Watson, who had become an advocate after trying a variety of other alternative crops (chickpeas, pinto beans and proso millet) in his rotation.

Watson said he found field peas to be a steadier crop than chickpeas, 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 Producers Cooperative 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.

“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.

Read more about field peas on the Farm Meets Fork blog post The Perfect Pod for Peas: Nebraska.

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