Panhandle Growers, Co-Op Developing Market For Yellow Field Peas

Eighty producers in the region and a local cooperative collaborating on new venture.

Published on: May 23, 2013

A new crop in the Nebraska Panhandle is on the verge of offering farmers a new market and additional market development in the region.

About 80 producers and the Stateline Producers Cooperative are developing this new crop venture.

This year about 25,000 acres in western Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, and Wyoming were planted to field peas under a new initiative and contract with Stateline Producers Cooperative in Bridgeport and Gering, according to John Lightcap, Stateline manager.

The high-protein, yellow edible peas are a legume being planted between corn and wheat crops or as an alternative to summer fallow. They are being marketed for human consumption and for livestock feed.

Nebraska Panhandle Growers, Co-Op Developing Market For Yellow Field Peas
Nebraska Panhandle Growers, Co-Op Developing Market For Yellow Field Peas

Edible peas, which are planted in early spring and harvested in July, use 9-10 inches of water to produce 25 to 30 bushels per acre, says John Thomas, UNL Extension Educator in Box Butte County. Field peas had previously been grown in western Nebraska to a smaller extent and trucked to an out-of-state processor or used as a cover crop or for livestock feed.

With sales contracts from the co-op and a means for segregated handling and storage, this year field peas can be grown for a larger overseas market for human consumption.

Nationally, the number of acres planted to dry edible peas increased by 81% from 2011 to 2012, from 362,000 acres to 654,000 acres, according to a report from USDA's 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.

Stateline's interest in developing field pea production dates back to February 2012 when they were approached by one of their bean growers, Mark Watson of Alliance.

Watson had become an advocate after trying a variety of other alternative crops (chick peas, pinto beans, and proso millet) in his rotation. Watson said he found field peas to be a steadier crop than chick peas, which offered higher rewards for higher risk, and its production cycle worked well in rotation.

Field peas are harvested in July, allowing the field more time than with other crops to recover soil moisture before being planted to wheat in the fall.

The Nebraska processor was interested, but to add the infrastructure and storage needed for commercial production, Stateline needed grower commitment. Through 2012 they hosted member and grower information meetings and in spring 2013 got the number of contracts they needed to "ramp up" the co-op facility in Bridgeport. They acquired seed from northern states and Canada for their growers for this year and have planted plots to test which pea varieties may be best suited to the soils, climate, water and cropping practices of the area for future years.

UNL also planted field pea variety trials this spring.

"We're in the process of expanding our storage capability to provide segregated storage for 300,000 bushels this year," Lightcap said. "We hope to have 600,000 to 800,000-bushel storage capacity eventually."