5 May 1995

Plenty to learn but PGRO trials show promising results

Winter peas came through the winter well, survived recent hard frosts, and merit a fresh look, according to the Processors and Growers Research Organisation. Andrew Blake reports.

SIX years of testing suggest that winter peas could prove a "useful additional option", particularly for producers needing earliness to avoid summer moisture stress, says PGRO director, Geoffrey Gent.

There is still plenty to learn on the husbandry side, not least on sowing dates and rates, he admits. And with autumn-sown spring varieties looking equally good in this years trials, some concern remains that a "really hard winter" could present a different picture.

Initial scepticism

"Initially there was quite a bit of scepticism," says Mr Gent. Frost-hardy types tested in the 1970s were unable to cope with the wind and rain of a typical UK winter.

But new French varieties, notably the human consumption line, Froidure, and the semi-leafless compounding type, Rafale, seem to offer better resistance. They also have the possible bonus of a yield edge over spring-sown types.

In last years PGRO trials true winter varieties came to harvest 14 days earlier than February-sown Solara.

Pigeon threat

Pigeons, the main perceived threat, have not been a big problem. Although the small-scale plots at PGRO have needed intensive protection – mainly from pheasants – nearby commercial crops are relatively unscathed and close to flowering.

Indeed a certain amount of grazing can help by removing soft frost-susceptible growth which is later offset by strong tillering, says trials officer Steve Belcher. As far as other pests and diseases are concerned, winter peas are "not very interesting", according to Dr Anthony Biddle.

Unlike spring varieties they do not seem to suffer from downy mildew, and are generally too big by the spring to be troubled by weevils, he explains.

Otherwise the risks from aphids, pea moth (in human consumption crops) and diseases such as botrytis and mycosphaerella are much the same. Earlier work however suggests that a "really good seed treatment", including thiabendazole against ascochyta, is advisable.