TOP PROFITS FROM PEA CROPS:By Edward Long

 THE WINNING team in this year’s BEPA/PGRO Pea Crop Challenge achieved a gross margin of £700/ha – proof that pulses can be highly profitable, say contest backers.

“Peas can be the most profitable crop on the farm, as evidence from the 2004 challenge and commercial experience shows,” says the PGRO”s Anthony Biddle.

 “Yields were not super-high but growers in the south and east were reasonably happy and coupled with high prices, resulting from the opening up of more premium markets, the bottom line was extremely good.”

That could help trigger more interest in peas, to reverse the recent fall in area. Only 65,000ha (160,000 acres) were on UK farms in 2004, 10% down on 2002.

In the challenge, sponsored by BEPA, Cebeco Seeds, Daltons Seeds, Makhteshim Agan and SW Seeds, in association with farmers weekly, 10 teams competed to produce the most profitable pea crop.

Outright winners were Peter Busfield of Dunns of Long Sutton and farm manager Adrian Howell of Proctor Brothers, Long Sutton. They notched up a gross margin of £700/ha from the variety Kahuna and scooped the best marrowfat prize on the way.

The award for best other type went to John Dawson of Dalmark Seeds and independent agronomist Roger Davis for the maple pea Rose, which gave a gross margin of £642/ha.

 “There are two clear messages to emerge from the competition,” says Mr Biddle. “Using a lot of inputs does not necessarily mean high yield, and it is vital to control thrips. Where the pest was allowed free rein crops were devastated.”

 The winning crop was sown on Mar 17 with sufficient Wakil-treated seed to establish 65 plants/sq m. A week later Opogard pre-em herbicide went on at 1.75 litres/ha.

A month later, following a thrips alert, Hallmark Zeon was applied at 75ml/ha. In mid-May a mix of three litres/ha Pulsar + 0.3 litres/ha Fortrol was used to tackle weeds post-em.

Disease control was based on a mid-June mix of 0.5 litres/ha Amistar + 1.5 litres/ha Bravo, applied with 140g/ha Aphox, 50ml/ha Hallmark Zeon and 5kg/ha manganese.

The competition-winning Kahuna yielded 4.26t/ha worth £225/t, while class-winning Rose yielded 5.13t/ha worth 160/t.

The winning team invested £56.72/ha in herbicides and £60.47/ha in other chemicals, whereas other teams spent up to £86.10/ha and £101.95/ha respectively.