Concern is growing for this year’s vining pea crops as dry weather hampers farmers’ drilling operations.

Six weeks of prolonged dry weather has seen growers drilling peas deeper and deeper to find moisture, disrupting harvesting programs and raising fears of supply chain problems for frozen and canned peas.

Stephen Francis, managing director of Lincolnshire farmer-owned business Fen Peas, which grows about 4000 acres of vining peas for Christian Salvesen and Premier Foods, said crop conditions were “very serious”.

“The peas we drilled in January and February look magnificent, but we’ve had no rain since the first week in March. Usually if there’s little rain we can be drilling peas at 3 inches depth in May, but this year we’ve found ourselves drilling at 3.5 inches in mid April and struggling to get into moisture.”

Growers throughout Lincolnshire and parts of Yorkshire had found drilling programmes disrupted, he added. “This is a sector-wide issue.

“The 2006 pea crop achieved 85% of its forecast, so the 2007 harvest is already going to be a short crop. Unless we get 120% yield in this year’s peas we’re not going to be in a balanced position. Peas harvested early in June will fall into the 2006 selling period, which will eave 2007 extra short.”

The dry weather had forced cultivation costs “through the roof”, he said. “In places we’ve had to make four or five passes. Prices have gone up about 12% compared with 2006, but in 2006 we were only at breakeven with a 100% crop.

“Our total output was £305/acre compared with a budget of £425/acre. Add to that harvesting charges, seed costs, drilling costs and rent some growers will be paying for pea land and it’s looking very marginal for the sector.”