20 December 1996

Celicas failings hit pea growers premiums hard

By Philip Clarke

PEA producers are missing out on substantial premiums as new marrowfat variety, Celica, fails to meet processor specifications.

In its first year of full commercial production, Celica has been marketed as suitable for human consumption by importing agent, Seed Innovations. Boosted by the promise of high yields, it has already captured a 10% market share, and is provisionally recommended by NIAB.

But processors have run into major problems with much of this years crop failing to rehydrate or cook properly. Rejections by canners are commonplace.

One processor – Askew and Barrett of Wisbech, Cambs – has over 30% of its contracts with merchants down to Celica, and took in a significant tonnage at harvest. "Since then we have had just one lot accepted by a canner. When they told us the variety did not cook, we installed our own cooker in our laboratory," said director Paddy Barrett.

"All of our subsequent samples have failed and the canners will not take them, even at a discount."

Alan Wymer of Norfolk merchant Saxons Agriculture, who is also president of the British Edible Pulse Association, confirms the problem. With over 445ha (1100 acres) grown on contract, he has about 2000t of Celica peas looking for a home. He puts the lost premium to growers at about £40/t.

Canners are not interested, he says, and even getting them into the lower premium pet food market is not straightforward, with micronisers selective on colour and shape.

"The peas are still in farm stores and we cant find a market for them. It does not help that the feed value has also dropped by £20/t since harvest."

Other merchants and processors confirm the high rejection rate. "But at least Celica has yielded well, with some of our growers getting over 2t/acre. It is not a total disaster," said Peter Smith of Wherry & Sons, Bourne, Lincs.

This view is shared by Geoffrey Gent, director of the Processors and Growers Research Organisation, which tests new varieties in conjunction with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany. He believes that there is still a possibility the variety could come right as crops in store mature. But he is concerned that problems have arisen commercially when Celica passed all the tests at the trial stage, though it is too soon to say how this might affect its NIAB rating.

Importing agent, Seed Innovations, acknowledges the problem and is working with growers and a canner to try to find an explanation. One possibility is that the crops were left in the ground too long and were affected by the intense summer drought, says the companys Peter Croot. Seed Innovations will be coming out in the new year with a management programme for the crop in an attempt to avoid a repeat next year, and to prevent a slump in seed sales.

But many processors and growers have already made up their minds. "We have tested a lot of crops from harvest 1996 and there has been great inconsistency. As a processor, we cannot entertain a variety for this reason," said Lloyd Cross of Dunns, Long Sutton, Lincs. &#42