8 August 1997

Struggle after June washout but as yet far from disaster

WINTER pea production has been a struggle, but far from a disaster this season.

That is the overall conclusion as the effects of Junes washout become clear.

"It has not been the best of years for peas," admits Michael Craner of Harlow Agricultural Merchants, agent for human consumption winter variety Froidure. "But then we have had four very good ones previously."

Generally, HAMs 66 customers growing about 2225ha (5500 acres) have done a good salvage job, although 90% of crops have needed desiccating, he says. "For the past few years only 30-40% have required it. Yields are definitely down. Last year we had two growers with 5.4t/ha plus. This year the average is more like 4.5." Much of the difference is accounted for by shedding in the field, he suggests.

Encouragingly, only 6 of the 38 samples seen to date have failed to reach human consumption quality, although the maximum £34/t premium has had to be discounted quite severely in many cases, because of high waste and stain levels, he says. "Some people are only picking up £10/t premiums."

Geoffrey Gent, of the Processors and Growers Research Organisation, says Junes soakings inevitably took their toll. "We have had more rotting than normal, but it has not been as bad as in spring peas." Rain coinciding with flowering in spring varieties led to a lot of secondary growth, he notes.

The incidence of bacterial blight has been surprisingly low, considering the sharp frosts in April and May, says colleague Anthony Biddle. At least three crops are known to have been hit quite hard. "But they were all from farm-saved, untested seed which tells its own story." The PGRO test for bacterial blight costs only £52 + VAT a sample, he notes.

East Midlands barometer grower Justin Blackwoods Froidure on heavy land looked promising until the weather broke in June and botrytis and fusarium foot rot moved in. Two-thirds of the way through harvest yield appears to be about 3.7t/ha (1.5t/acre).

"It could have been 2.5t/acre but we have had an awful lot of very small peas because of abortion in the pods. The stems rotted and they just gave up." Despite his tribulations winter peas will almost certainly remain in the rotation, he says. "You should not be put off by one year in eight or 10."

First-time winter pea grower Robert Goodfellow is well pleased with his Rafale compounding variety grown for seed at Home Farm, Helpston, near Peterborough. The 28ha (70-acre) crop sown on Nov 8 on thin limestone brash did not need desiccating and came off last week at an estimated 5t/ha (2t/acre). "The June rain worried me a bit – we had 6in – but it stood quite well."

Petit pois?Not quite, but the small peas have been too numerous for Justin Blackwoods Froidure winter pea crop to yield really well.

WINTER PEAS

&#8226 Wet summer yield penalty.

&#8226 Quality premiums trimmed.

&#8226 More desiccation needed.

&#8226 Bacterial blight limited.