27 February 1998

FAITH STILL IN PEAS DESPITE BAD OMEN

PULSE prospects under Agenda 2000 may be less than bright. But with yields of 6t/ha (2.4/acre), Suffolk farmer Richard Langton and father Giles are confident peas will remain part of their rotation.

The crop at Wenham Grange, Little Wenham, gives gross margins of £800-850/ha (£324-344/acre) – on a par with second wheats and £100/ha (£40/acre) higher than from spring rape.

Their favourite break crop on the 445ha (1100-acre) farm of sandy, clay loam has since the 1960s been peas, which also spread drilling workloads and provide residual nitrogen for first wheats.

Beans never do well on the relatively dry farm and can be late to harvest, says Richard. "We have also been hit badly by chocolate spot and think we can control pea diseases more easily. Oilseed rape is getting very expensive to grow."

Sown every sixth year in the rotation, the annual 40ha (100 acres) of peas are usually equally for seed and commercial premiums.

Human consumption types like Celica and winter variety Rafale have been tried but thought too risky. Now the micronising market is their main target. Mainstay Solara has been replaced by more modern large blues and other varieties with better agronomic features and higher yields.

"Last year, we were considering Elan. But after speaking to Morley Research Centre, they suggested Hampton fared better in the eastern counties." At 6.1t/ha (2.5t/acre) – 1.1t/ha (0.9t/acre) ahead of budget – it did not disappoint. Ramrod, a white-flowered type for a niche market, did even better at 6.5t/ha (2.6t/acre).

The crop was drilled in the first week of March. "The seed-bed on our medium bodied land is critical. We use a plough and press or furrow cracker before winter, allowing frost to get to work, before going in with a combination drill." Extra potash goes on the stubble beforehand – a tip from Independent Agronomys John Tunaley. "He reckons peas benefit from fresh K applications."

Mr Tunaley also suggested the new herbicide Bullet (cyanazine+ pendimethalin). Applied on Mar 15 it worked well in the prevailing moist soil. "It is a cost-effective mix of old chemistry," comments Richard.

Tropotox (MCPB) took care of volunteer oilseed rape and Fusilade (fluazifop-P-butyl) pre-flowering controlled volunteer cereals on the headlands.

Pea fungicides are generally not up to the standards of cereal products, so the farm adopts insurance tactics.

Last year two split rate treatments were applied. "Chlorothalonil is important in our programme, but we need to go in early to protect the leaf from mycosphaerella and ascochyta."

The first spray, on June 4, was a mix of Bravo (chlorothalonil), MBC and manganese sulphate, the latter against marsh spot. With traps and the PGRO suggesting a need to control pea moth, Hallmark (lambda-cyhalothrin) was added.

The second treatment – 12 days later during a gap in very wet weather – included Ronilan (vinclozolin) against botrytis with Bravo and MBC.

Harvesting after 130mm (5in) of rain in June was tricky. "The Hampton was quite close to the ground and we suffered some losses. However, it stood well in comparison to our neighbours Baccara.

"If we can still grow over 6t/ha and get a premium I am sure we will carry on growing peas." &#42

Peas yielding over 6t/ha justify their place on Richard Langtons Suffolk farm – even under Agenda 2000 proposals. Micronising quality (inset) from Hampton ensures good premiums.

LANGTON PEAS

&#8226 6t/ha+ gives £850/ha GM.

&#8226 Correct seed-beds vital.

&#8226 Extra potash rewarding.

&#8226 New varieties Hampton and Ramrod helping.

&#8226 French fungicide tips.

&#8226 Bullet herbicide worked well.