Nebraska farmers attending a late 2016 workshop about growing field peas were treated to a tasty bit of marketing information – a slice of coffee cake made with field pea flour.
Finding new markets for field peas is important since peas are gaining popularity as a rotation crop for the state’s corn and wheat growers.
In the past, many Nebraska winter wheat farmers – particularly those in the semi-arid western part of the state – employed a technique known as “summer fallow,” which kept a portion of the soil out of production for several months so it could replenish its water and nutrients for the next growing season. Now, those idle acres are being planted with field peas, significantly enhancing profitability and nourishing the soil.
“Field peas have worked out really well here in Nebraska,” says Mark Watson, a no-till farmer based in Alliance who serves as the chairman of the Panhandle No-Till Partnership. “If you can eliminate that fallow period and add in a profitable crop, which the field peas have proven to be, it just works out much better economically. Adding field peas into our rotations has been a big economic boost to this growing region.”
Traditional field pea markets are primarily human consumption and feed for cattle, pigs and other animals. However, food trends including an increased interest in plant-based and gluten-free diets may create a new demand for field peas. During the workshop in Culbertson, Ben Dutton, extension educator, predicted the gluten-free market could be a boon for field peas.
“Peas are actually not used that much in gluten-free products right now, and I think that’s a good place for pea derivatives to really get a place in those products,” Dutton says. “You don’t have a lot of aftertaste, particularly with yellow peas. Peas actually are pretty competitive as far as cost is concerned. The other nice thing about peas is you can have three distinct products: protein concentrates, starch concentrates and fiber concentrates, and all three have different qualities that can be used in different things.”
Field peas are cool-season crops that are typically planted in the spring and harvested in July. They’re ideal in western Nebraska because they need moisture in April, May and June, when the area receives the bulk of its rain, and they are unlikely to deplete the soil of moisture. This gives the soil profile time to recharge and prepare for the upcoming winter wheat crop.
In addition, because field peas are legume crops, they contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria in various Rhizobium forms that convert nitrogen into ammonia – a form of nitrogen that plants can use. This means field peas need little to no fertilizer, and often, residual nitrogen is available for the succeeding crop.
“You tend to be able to grow pretty good wheat behind your field peas,” Watson says. “There’s something about adding that legume into your rotation that winter wheat really likes, so there’s definitely an agronomic benefit to it.”