Competition between spring cropping options is intense, but the improving performance of modern marrowfat varieties which offer gross margins in excess of spring oilseed rape mean spring peas are worth more than a cursory look.
Supported by a strong export market premiums are currently around the £75/tonne mark for those able to achieve the necessary quality while the high residual nitrogen is of great value to the following cereal crop.
Other benefits include the opportunity to control problem weeds and the option to spread harvest workload. However, their contribution to boosting the performance of the following cereal crop has only recently come to be fully appreciated.
Peas are the most drought resistant spring cropping option available to the UK grower. This is a salient point with the memory of last year and the current situation in the East of the country where water restrictions are likely to limit irrigation activity.
Pulses typically leave a residual amount of nitrogen after harvest in the region of 60kg/ha, equivalent to Index 1, and with ammonium nitrate at roughly £1/kg this represents an instant saving of £60/ha in nitrogen for the following wheat crop, but the value of pulses goes much further.
A three-year study performed between 2008 and 2010 by UNIP, the French equivalent of the PGRO, over 36,000 wheat crops found that wheat after peas yielded 0.84t/ha more than wheat after wheat, and 0.68t/ha more than wheat after oilseed rape. The average nitrogen fertiliser saving was over £85/ha.
To build on this research the HGCA, in partnership with the PGRO and other industry groups, has launched a project to investigate the relationship between residual nitrogen deposited by pulses and its uptake by the following crop.According to PGRO technical director Anthony Biddle preliminary results indicate that the nitrogen uptake of cereals after pulses is greater than a soil test the previous autumn or spring indicates is available. âThis suggests the benefit of pulses in the rotation is vastly underappreciated,â says Dr Biddle.
For Cambridgeshire grower Alison Murphy of E H Morris, near March, spring peas are a valuable break crop in a rotation built around wheat, potatoes and sugar beet.
Last year her crop of Neon, the highest yielding marrowfat on the 2012 PGRO Recommended List, yielded 5.69t/ha while Prophet, a large blue, yielded 5t/ha, though its lesser performance can be partially attributed to two harsh spring frosts which knocked its development.
âLast season was clearly favourable to peas and both crops received the same agronomic inputs, but we do tend to see new varieties perform better,â says Mrs Murphy.
Last year Neon was grown on a seed contract for breeder Limagrain, but this year will be produced as a true commercial crop.
As a new variety Neon is still under evaluation with major end-users, but preliminary tests performed by Dunns of Long Sutton have returned very encouraging results.
âOur tests indicate it is variety that is fit for purpose. We have seen no problems with its cooking performance and its taste is quite acceptable with high palatability scores,â says Commercial Manager Peter Busfield.
âWe will be contracting more Neon this year and feeding it into markets that are not variety specific while it continues its long term evaluation by one of the major end-users. This will take a while, but it looks promising. âEverything we hear from our growers about Neon has been positive. All the growers who trialled it in 2011 have committed again for 2012 and one Buckinghamshire farmer commented that it was the best crop of peas he had ever produced.â
âWe always encourage growers to produce the best crop they can and will pay a favourable premium to those with samples that meet the quality specification.â
Dunns is currently offering a premium over feed peas of £75/tonne for samples that meet specification.âI would like to see another yearâs data on it [Neon] before I could say that it is as good as Kabuki, but it is certainly in the same league.