LIND, Wash. — Researchers are testing winter peas as a possible crop for dryland farmers in Eastern Washington.
Washington State University professor Stephen Guy and USDA Agricultural Research Service pea breeder Rebecca McGee spoke about their research during a field day at the university’s dryland station in Lind, Wash., in June.
Guy said farmers are beginning to plant winter pea acres in dry, fallow areas.
“We can plant them in the fall, they can make it through the winter with the right variety,” he said. “We can actually get some return on them depending on what market they’re going into.”
Winter pea market options are currently limited to cover crops, because most are feed quality. Food quality winter peas would open up readily available markets, Guy said.
Food quality peas are worth about twice the value of feed-quality peas to the farmer, McGee said.
Winter peas replace fertilizers, Guy said, and provide a crop rotation to a region that doesn’t usually have a lot of crop diversity.
“The greater the difference between the crops, the greater the influence of rotation,” he said, citing nutrient cycling, breaking up disease and insect cycles and increased weed control options.
Guy said winter wheat yields increase about 20 percent following a pea crop.
Ritzville, Wash., farmer Rob Dewald experiences a yield bump when he follows winter peas with dark northern spring wheat. The peas are a good broadleaf crop that allows him to take out grassy weeds like goatgrass, cheatgrass or rye economically, he said.
The toughest thing is winter survival, he said, noting he’s lost two of the last three crops.
“But we’ve got varieties that are coming that are real winter hardy,” he said.
Peas tend to have shallow roots compared to cereal crops, so water stored in the soil would be accessible for a following wheat crop, Guy said.
Winter pea problems include limited herbicide availability and the fact that it’s a new crop for many people, Guy said. Guy said there will be more research at the dryland station next year.
McGee said she was initially skeptical about what would work at the Lind station, so she tested many varieties to see which would perform best. She is working to separate generations for different characteristics, including plant height, seed size and seed color.
McGee will send plants to New Zealand in order to increase populations, and plans to plant more plots in 2016 from the varieties that perform well at the Lind station.