Across Nebraska planting is in full swing, but about 80 farmers in western Nebraska already have a new type of crop sprouting up – peas. These peas aren’t the same sweet peas from your grandmother’s garden, but are yellow field peas (Pisum sativum) that can be grown for human consumption or can be used for livestock feed.
The peas are high in protein as they are a legume. Legumes also have a nitrogen-fixing ability that adds nitrogen back into the soil making the soil more fertile. This makes peas and other legumes the perfect plant for years between corn and wheat which take large amounts of nitrogen from the soil.
The peas were planted in early spring and will be harvested in July. They require only 9-10 inches of water to produce 25-30 bushels of peas per acre, said John Thomas, UNL extension educator in Box Butte County. In perspective, corn needs approximately 25 inches of water to reach its full potential at maturity. Also, as field peas are harvested in July this allows the soil more time than with other crops to recover moisture before being planted to wheat in the fall.
Field peas had previously been grown in western Nebraska to a smaller extent, but due to a co-op, Stateline Producers Cooperative, now interested in buying and selling the peas – farmers have an established market to sell their crop. With sales contracts from the co-op and a means for storage, this year the crop of field peas can be grown for a larger overseas market for human consumption.
Peas are a growing trend. Nationally, the number of acres planted to dry edible peas increased by 81 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to a USDA report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. During the same period, harvested yield more than doubled increasing from 5,625,000 cwt in 2011 to 11,453,000 cwt in 2012, according to the USDA report. The top five producing states in 2012 were Montana, North Dakota, Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
– Kassi Williams is a proud farmer’s daughter growing up on a cow/calf and grain farm in Iowa. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University, majoring in both animal science and public relations. She has been involved with agriculture from birth, working in multiple facets of the industry including the USDA and Extension. Kassi relocated to Nebraska in 2010 to work for a marketing communications agency for a multitude of agriculture clients.