There has been a lot of discussion this winter about field peas and other pulse crops such as chickpeas and lentils production in South Dakota due to the construction of a processing plant near Harrold, S.D.

Growing alternative crops always depends on a market existing for the crop, and once the decision is to try something new, then the issue becomes how to efficiently grow that crop. To help their customers, or if they become proficient in recommendations, take on new customers, ag consultants and ag retailer agronomists have to be ready.

Pulse crops are ones that have been successfully grown in South Dakota, where else in the nation is not widely talked about because they are a minor crop. But Ruth Beck, SDSU Extension agronomy field specialist has some tips to share about growing field peas in 2014.

"Let me start by reminding growers that pulse crops are not new to South Dakota. Field peas, chickpeas and lentils have been grown with success in central and western South Dakota for over 20 years," she said.

She added that long time pulse crop growers have found pulse crops to provide a reasonable and consistent rate of return to the investment. In addition, many of the growers have found that pulse crops also provide other benefits. For instance, field peas work well in rotations that include winter wheat.

Beck explained that peas are planted in early spring and most years are harvested in time to allow sufficient moisture recharge to occur before planting winter wheat that fall. When added to a field rotation, they can also break the cycle of weeds and diseases that can build with too many wheat or other grass crops in a sequence.

She added that these crops can also save on input costs.

"Because pulse crops are legumes, which means when they are inoculated properly, they can fix most of their own nitrogen. This significantly reduces fertilizer requirements as compared to other rotational crops," Beck said. "One of the biggest advantages of peas is they have a lot of potential salvage value. For instance, if poor weather at harvest reduces the suitability of the peas for the high-end markets, peas will still provide an excellent high protein livestock feed. In dry years peas can also be grown as a forage, because their growth is in the spring when there is often more soil moisture available."

One reason more growers have not planted pulse crops in the past is the fact that South Dakota growers do not have easy access to the processing markets. However, with the construction of a processing plant in central South Dakota, producers who have not grown pulse crops in the past may be considering this option now.

If you are considering trying field peas for the first time, here are some tips to consider:

  • Field peas offer the best (lowest risk) option to step into pulse production.
  • There are two types of field peas; yellow and green. Generally green peas are sold into the human edible market and therefore quality can be a larger issue. Green peas are also used in premium dog food products. Yellow peas are popular in the feed markets and manufacturing sector. Some countries prefer yellow peas for human consumption. They have typically yielded better than green pea varieties in this area.
  • Lining up a good seed source is very important. South Dakota has been a large producer of pea seed. Go to http://www.sdpulsegrowers.com/ for a list of seed producers and sellers.
  • Pea seed is susceptible to damage, especially if it is handled in cold weather. All seed should be handled gently once the weather gets warmer. Use belts not augers, make sure towers have bumpers, etc.
  • Line up a seed source soon.
  • Peas are a cool season crop and are able to withstand relatively cool temperatures (19-23 deg F) at early growth (1-5 node stage) so it is important to plant them early in the growing season. Like wheat, very hot weather during flowering can limit their production.
  • Being a large seed, peas have a lot of push and are therefore well adapted to no-till growing conditions.
  • The seed should be inoculated with the proper type of rhizobium inoculant. Peas, lentils and chickpeas require a different strain than soybeans. Producers cannot afford to not inoculate or to have inoculant that does not work. We recommend using two sources of inoculant, especially with first time producers. Using both a seed applied and a granular source of inoculant has worked well in the past.
  • Peas should be seeded at 350,000 pure live seeds/acre and planted deep enough to allow seed to absorb moisture (deeper than wheat). Proper depth helps peas withstand spring frosts.
  • Peas can be drilled in narrow rows (10 inches or less). Use the least amount of air velocity as possible and equip towers with rubber pads. The key is to be gentle. Small cracks in the seed coat can affect germination. Most growers using low-disturbance no-till techniques in South Dakota do not use rollers.
  • Grassy weeds are relatively easy to control with post emerge weed control, however broad leaf weeds should be controlled with a pre-emergent herbicide. It takes a while for peas to be competitive, so early germinating broadleaf weeds can be a problem. Early pre-plant (late fall or early spring) programs provide the best insurance.
  • Chickpeas and lentils have also been grown very successfully in South Dakota. Anyone considering either of these, should carefully research production practices, adaptability and varieties beforehand.

For more information refer to the South Dakota Pulse Growers website: http://www.sdpulsegrowers.com/ or visit iGrow.org. Also, a power point presentation on pea production with voice by Dwayne Beck, Ph.D., is available upon request by contacting the SDSU Extension Regional Center in Pierre, 605-773-8120.