High-yielding winter peas a 'game changer'
New variety could double yield of typical spring crop
By MATTHEW WEAVER
MOSCOW, Idaho -- New winter-planted pea varieties may soon dramatically increase yields for farmers across the Pacific Northwest.
Rebecca McGee, USDA Agricultural Research Service geneticist in Pullman, Wash., is working on winter peas that more than double the yield of typical spring varieties.
Spring-planted peas typically yield about 2,226 pounds per acre, while her highest-yielding winter variety produces more than 6,235 pounds per acre. A more typical winter pea yield is about 4,552 pounds per acre, she said.
McGee typically strives for new varieties to outyield current varieties by about 10 percent, or if they have good disease resistance.
The crops would help address a predicted change in the distribution of rainfall, with colder and wetter winters and springs and warm, dry summers forecast. Last year had the same typical amount of rainfall as previous years, McGee said, just at a different time.
"If we could shift our fieldwork from the spring, when it's difficult to get into the field, to the autumn, when we have relatively dry climates, we can make life a lot easier," she said.
McGee said the new varieties will go before the Washington State Crop Improvement Association in the next two to three years.
USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council Executive Director Tim McGreevy called the new varieties a "game changer."
"We can get commercial varieties that are acceptable to our customers, we could see yields potentially that are double what we see in the spring-grown legumes," he said. "I think it could have a significant impact on the competitiveness of these crops in this area."
The change may allow pea production to expand into the drier regions of the Pacific Northwest that don't traditionally raise pulses, McGreevy said. Winter-sown varieties take advantage of high-moisture times during the winter and spring.
The 10-year average yield is about 2,000 pounds per acre for the region, McGreevy said. McGee's varieties yield between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds per acre.
"That's significant," he said.
But he cautioned that a lot of work remains to be done to get them from the research plot into production. Winter pulse crops require weed and disease control, and there are always issues to be worked out with a new agronomic system, he said.
"There is some huge potential," he said. "But we're still three to five years from really seeing those commercially viable varieties actually hit a grower's fields."
McGreevy expects "dramatic" increases in acreage and production capacity with the new varieties.
They will help meet high demand in a growing global population, he said.
"There's a shortage of these crops in the world," he said. "We're going to have to have inexpensive vegetable proteins and we are seeing great demand for these products." McGee is also working on winter lentils. She recently provided an update on her breeding efforts at the Western Pea and Lentil Growers Association conference in Moscow, Idaho.