BANCROFT, Idaho — Chad Neibaur started raising peas as a cover crop to fix nitrogen in the soil and break the disease cycle.
Seeing potential for both a soil boost and a harvest from peas, Neibaur is among a few Eastern Idaho growers planning to let their pea crops mature this season for commercial sale.
Dry peas are still commonly harvested in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, but they’ve all but disappeared from commercial production in Eastern Idaho since Del Monte Foods stopped contracting with the region’s growers several years ago. Eastern Idaho growers who’ve turned to peas as nitrogen-fixing cover crops, however, have been reminded that they perform well in the region’s high-elevation fields.
“We’ve got lots and lots of pods on now. It looks like a pretty good crop,” said Neibaur, who planted 240 acres of irrigated peas for harvest.
Neibaur acknowledges allowing peas to dry for harvest will come at the expense of soil-building potential, and dryer residue will decompose slower. He still plans to fall seed some peas solely as cover crops, following them with mustard in the same growing season for added soil benefits.
Jeremiah Clark, who owns an Idaho Falls seed-cleaning business, sourced seed from Northern Idaho for both Neibaur and Ririe, Idaho, grower Clark Hamilton, hoping their fields will yield 60,000 pounds of peas for him to market for human consumption or pet food protein. The variety he chose stands erect, making it easier to harvest than other pea varieties that lie flat.
If he can’t find a local market for peas, there’s a strong market in Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington.
“A lot of guys are wanting to do it for the rotational value — fixing nitrogen for next year’s crop and it breaks up the disease cycle,” Clark said.
Hamilton avoids planting cover crops, unwilling to pass on a cash crop for a season, but sees raising peas for harvest as a happy medium and a way to break a barley-only rotation. He’s tried corn as a second crop but considers it risky for his area. Hamilton planted both peas and green beans several years ago for Del Monte canned vegetables when he farmed in Riverton, Utah.
“You could always raise a good crop of grain behind peas or beans,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton, who planted 125 acres of peas this season, said the contract price for dry peas in Northern Idaho is 18 cents per pound. His peas have grown over 5 feet tall, and Hamilton estimates as a forage crop, irrigated peas could yield at least 3 tons per acre.
Hamilton’s farm manager, Mitch Landon, said his family raised peas in Ririe for Del Monte more then 30 years ago. Under irrigation, he’s optimistic peas will fix up to 300 units of nitrogen per acre, with the value of nitrogen at about 50 cents per unit. He believes the increasing use of cover crops and growing demand for peas for human food and pet food have strengthened demand for pea seed, a potential market for Hamilton’s crops.