Field pea

24.05.17

Field peas are one of the oldest domesticated crops, with archeological evidence showing they were brought under cultivation more than 20,000 years ago. Field peas are a good source of dietary proteins and energy. They have very low levels of fat (approximately 1%) and high levels of soluble carbohydrate, mostly in the form of starch. Although closely related to the garden pea, which are sold fresh or frozen in supermarkets, field peas are different. Garden or green peas are a horticultural product whereas field peas are a grain.

Overview

The field pea, classified as Pisum sativum, is a winter crop. It is profitable in its own right but also makes an excellent alternate crop in a cereal-based farming system. Being a legume, field peas add nitrogen to the soil and provide a disease break between cereal crops.

Field peas are grown in most cropping regions of Southern Australia, with production averaging 300,000 tonnes annually. Most field peas are grown for the grain, to be eaten by humans or stock. However, some types are used for green manure, forage or hay. Over 95 per cent of Australian production is for human consumption, with the majority exported.

There are many varieties of field pea grown in Australia. The most common are the ‘dun types’ which represent over 95 per cent of Australian production. These are grown for human consumption and stock feed. The ‘white types’ are also grown in Australia. They have white flowers, yellow cotyledons and a white-creamy seed coat, and are grown for human consumption. Other types include blue peas, marrowfat and maple peas, although these are not commonly grown in Australia.

Field peas grow in different ways, from trailing types to those which are erect at maturity. The way they are grown impacts on how easily they can be harvested.

The peak body for the pulse industry of Australia, including field pea growers, is Pulse Australia.

Facts and figures

  • Canada is the world’s largest exporter of field peas
  • Around 50% of Australian field pea production is exported, with India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Malaysia as the main markets
  • Export demand for Australian field pea increases when prices for chickpea are high in the Indian market
  • The price of soybean meal in Australia affects the domestic feed price of field pea

Production status

Production in Australia has averaged around 300,000 tonnes per year over the past five years. The five year average for export, according to Pulse Australia is 198,000 tonnes. Production is across the cropping regions of southern Australia.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Field Peas are a good source of dietary proteins and energy. They have very low levels of fat (approximately 1%) and high levels of soluble carbohydrate, mostly in the form of starch.

Most field peas are grown for grain (the pea) for human consumption (commonly known and sold as split peas); however, some types are used for green manure, forage or hay.

The field pea makes an excellent alternate crop in a cereal-based farming system. Being a legume, field peas add nitrogen to the soil, as well as providing a disease break between cereal crops.

According to the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, wheat yields grown in a paddock subsequent to a field pea crop can be up to double those where a wheat crop is grown directly after another wheat crop. Increases in wheat protein are also common.

Field peas are different from the garden or green peas that are sold fresh (or frozen) at the supermarket. Garden or green peas are a horticultural product whereas field peas are a grain.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Field peas are grown in most cropping regions of Southern Australia as a winter crop. Viability in the northern cropping region is increasing with the release of varieties specifically selected for northern growing conditions.

Soil type

Field peas can be grown on a range of soil types from light to heavy textured. The preference is for sandy loams or heavier with a pH(CaCl2) above 5. Field peas do not cope well with high exchangeable aluminium levels, salinity or extended periods of waterlogging.

As with all cropping, soil testing is recommended to determine the soil nutrient profile when considering which crop to grow.

Climate

Field peas can be grown in most cropping regions of Southern Australia. There are varieties available to perform in zones which receive less than 350mm rainfall per annum through to more than 500mm per annum. Viability in the northern cropping region (northern New South Wales and Queensland) is increasing with the release of varieties specifically selected for northern growing conditions.

Frost during early pod-filling can cause significant yield losses in field pea, so avoid paddocks with a high probability of frost from 1-3 weeks after flowering.

More information on the climatic preferences of different varieties is available from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries’ Winter Crop Variety Sowing Guide; the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) 2018 Sowing Guide for South Australia and NVT Victorian Winter Crop Summary 2018.

Varieties

There are a wide range of field pea varieties to choose from. The most common are the dun types, which have purple/faintly pink flowers, yellow cotyledons and green, brown or green/brown seed coats. These are grown for human consumption and stock feed. The white types are also frequently grown in Australia. They have white flowers, yellow cotyledons and a white-creamy seed coat, and are grown for human consumption. Other types include blue peas, marrowfat and maple peas although these are not commonly grown in Australia.

Variety selection is based on a number of considerations, including: suitability to environmental conditions (rainfall, temperature, soil type), disease tolerance and resistance, and intended end use of the grain.

Generally, no variety will exhibit all the desired attributes for the site selected. Indeed, a single variety may perform differently on different soil types with different rainfall patterns. Varietal selection often comes down to balancing the various risk factors based on the range of considerations.

Sources of further information on field pea varieties grown in Australia are available from the:

Planting and crop management

All pulse crops should be sown as part of an appropriate rotation. The paddock should not have grown field peas for at least three years and should also be more than 500m away from any paddock that grew field peas in the previous year. Stubbles from previous field pea crops can also pose a disease risk. The paddock should be at least 50m away (downwind) of paddocks with two and three year old stubbles. No separation is needed upwind.

The paddock should have a low number of weeds, especially broadleaf weeds, and care must be taken where there may be residues in soil from sulfonylurea herbicides. These herbicides can be very damaging to pulse crops including field peas. Different herbicides have different breakdown rates, so always check the label of products that have been used in the paddock.

The paddock should have a good surface condition. Rough or uneven surfaces will cause problems during harvesting, as will stones or stumps. Soil erosion can be a problem after harvest, so avoiding paddocks with loose surface soil is recommended, especially if they are likely to be exposed to strong winds.

The best time to sow field peas in the southern region is between May to June, depending on climatic environment, growing conditions and variety. The aim is to have flowering start from mid to late August.

Sowing should be early enough to avoid end of season heat stress and late enough to avoid blackspot infection and frost damage. This combination of factors usually puts sowing somewhere between mid-May to late-June. Given the gains that can be made when wheat, lupins and canola are sown early in the season, farmers will usually plant field pea after those crops are in the ground.

Field pea seeds should be inoculated with Group E inoculant (field pea, faba bean and lentil innoculum). Good nodulation is vital to a good crop, so care should be taken to complete the application of inoculumn at seeding. The product label for the inoculant should have instructions on the application rate and handling procedure. If the seed is to be treated with a fungicide (this step is not required everywhere), carry out this operation first and then apply the inoculant separately just before planting.

Ideally field peas should be sown at 3-5cm depth. Use enough seed to establish 30 plants per m2 for early sowing or for tall conventional types, and up to 40 plants per m2 for later sowing or semi-leafless types. The necessary seed rate will depend on germination percentage and seed size.

It is recommended to roll the paddock after sowing to even out the soil surface, however it is not essential. Rolling the paddock will make harvesting the plant easier. It is best to roll immediately after sowing, however you can also carry out this step after the field pea plants have emerged. Care should be taken if rolling after the plants have emerged: rolling too early can damage the seedlings and rolling too late can damage plants which are too tall to recover.  Also avoid rolling before or after applying post-emergent herbicides.

Phosphorus is the main fertiliser needed for growing field peas. Sulphur, zinc and potassium may also be required. Application amounts depend on the nutrient status of the soil and soil testing is generally carried out in order to determine requirements as well as considering cropping history and potential yield.

More detailed information on inoculation, seed dressings, sowing field peas, rolling and crop nutrition is available at:

Weeds, pests, and diseases

Broadleaf weeds are the main problem for field peas. There are more herbicide options for controlling broadleaf weeds in field peas than for other pulses, however the best option is to avoid paddocks that have a high load of weed seeds or where weed control is likely to be difficult.

There are two main insect pests affecting field pea crops in Australia: heliothis and pea weevil.

Heliothis punctigera (native budworm) tend to focus on the flowers and pods rather than the leaves. Careful monitoring should start once the crop starts flowering. Heliothis can be controlled with insecticides but the value of applying chemicals depends on the intended use for the field pea. There is a very low tolerance for grub damage if the field peas are for human consumption. It is best to apply the insecticide when the larvae are still very small and before they enter the pod. For further detailed information on helioliths and control refer to the Agriculture Victoria page on the Native budworm.

The pea weevil is a major pest in the southern regions. It is a small black beetle, around 5mm long, which seeks out pea crops from first flowering. It can be very damaging: reducing yields and grain quality to the point where it is no longer suitable for human consumption. It can be controlled with insecticides applied during the first few weeks of flowering before eggs are laid. The best way to detect pea weevil is to use a sweep net. For further detailed information on pea weevil and control refer to the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development page on the Management of pea weevil.

Field peas can be affected by fungal diseases including bacterial blight, powdery mildew and some viruses. Bacterial blight is the most devastating disease as it is highly infectious and is easily spread via machinery, people and animals. The best prevention is to source seed from crops where blight has not been detected and to isolate the crop from previous field pea paddocks. For further detailed information on bacterial blight refer to the Agriculture Victoria page on Bacterial blight of field peas.

Powdery mildew is the major disease threat in the northern region. It can cause significant yield losses and is best avoided through the use of resistant varieties and good crop management.

Field peas can also be affected by a group of viruses (luteovirus) that are spread by aphids. There are no control measures but the possibility of infection can be reduced by using varieties with resistance, planting into stubble to deter the aphids, avoiding planting near areas where aphids are known to infest, and avoiding bare patches in the crop which could attract aphids.

Infrastructure Requirements

Growing field peas requires the same large-scale machinery as cereal production. For example, tractors, cultivation equipment, seeder/disc drills, boom sprayers, combine harvesters (headers), chaser bins and grain trucks.

Depending on marketing arrangements, storing field peas on farm may be a consideration, in which case sheds, bunkers or silos will be required.

Harvesting & Processing

One of the benefits of field peas is that they are normally harvested ahead of the wheat crop, minimising competition for time and equipment. Harvesting can begin as soon as seed moisture falls to 14%. Delaying harvesting can lead to problems with seed quality, clashes with the harvest of other crops, shattering of pods, emergence of pea weevil and late weed growth.

Harvesting is easiest in a crop that is uniform and on a level soil surface – both of which are influenced by good paddock selection and sowing practices.

Chemical dessication (drying out) of field pea crops is sometimes used ahead of harvest. This process can help improve the timing of the harvest, maintain grain quality and reduce contamination of the crop with soil and trash.

Handling of field peas after harvest should be minimised to avoid damaging the seeds. It is best to use a belt shifter, but if an auger is used, it should be run full and at a slower speed than for cereals.

What the grower does after harvest depends on the marketing arrangement. They might sell the grain straight away, store it on farm to sell later or deliver it to a grain storage facility to sell later.

Field peas that are destined for human consumption need to be handled separately from peas that are grown for stockfeed or other purposes. There are strict receival standards, available from Pulse Australia, for field peas grown for human consumption.

For further detailed information on harvesting, including equipment and techniques, refer to the Field peas Northern Region – GrowNotesTM and the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development page on Field peas: essentials.

Markets & Marketing

Pulse Australia suggests the marketing decisions of Australian field pea growers will be influenced by:

  • The production levels in Canada (the world’s major grower and a competitive supplier)
  • Excess production from the previous season in Canada, USA and Europe (influencing stocks in reserve)
  • The world price of chickpea (field pea is purchased as a substitute when chickpea prices climb)
  • Timing of festivals in importing countries (influencing demand at time of Australian harvest)
  • Soybean meal price in Australia (affecting the domestic feed prices of field pea).

Most field peas are sold after harvest when the quality of the grain can be assessed. Some traders may offer forward contracts to growers to supply their specialty markets. Growers need to make sure that they understand the contract requirements to suit the needs of the types of peas grown.

Information on individual traders and handlers is available from Pulse Australia, along with up to date standards for field pea receival and export.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

As with all agricultural pursuits, risk is inherent in growing field peas and can include:

  • the crop failing to establish or mature properly due to adverse weather events, thus resulting in reduced yield and/or poor quality
  • commodity prices falling during the growth period impacting on the returns projected at planting
  • field peas not reaching the quality standards required and therefore attracting lower prices
  • not recouping the costs of inputs and capital invested in the crop, like fertiliser or the costs of running large equipment, if the crop fails.

Regulatory considerations

Apart from the regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport (including machinery movements and the loading/unloading of harvested grain), there are no regulations specific to field pea operations. More information about laws and regulations affecting field pea growers can be obtained from the relevant government authority. Information and advice can also be sought from the relevant state farming organisation, some of which are listed on the National Farmers’ Federation website; or from Pulse Australia.

There are receival standards that apply to field peas grown for human consumption. These are available from Pulse Australia.

Publications

Publications/information

GRDC Field Peas: The Ute Guide – Grains Research and Development Corporation App

Field peas Northern Region – GrowNotesTM – Grains Research and Development Corporation

Field peas Southern Region – GrowNotesTM – Grains Research and Development Corporation

Field Pea: Western NSW Planting Guide – NSW Department of Primary Industries

Winter Crop Variety Sowing Guide – NSW Department of Primary Industries

2018 Sowing Guide for South Australia – Grains Research and Development Corporation

2018 Victorian Winter Crop Summary – Agriculture Victoria

NVT Victorian Winter Crop Summary 2018 – Grains Research and Development Corporation

Field pea: essentials – Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development

Industry Bodies

Pulse Australia – peak body for the pulse industry, including field peas, in Australia

Image Gallery

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Sowing field peas (source Pulse Australia)

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Field pea crop growing alongside stubble from previous crop (source Pulse Australia)

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Field pea plant with pods (source Pulse Australia)

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Field pea grain Kaspa variety (source Pulse Australia)

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Field peas PBA Oura variety (source Pulse Australia)

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Young field pea plants (source Pulse Australia)

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Field pea crop in flower (source Pulse Australia)

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Harvesting field peas (source Pulse Australia)

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Field pea grain PBA Percy variety (source Pulse Australia)