8 March 2002

Worth persevering with valuable peas

By Wendy Owen

North-east correspondent

DESPITE disappointing results from growing a small acreage of peas for the first time last year, Guy Lee believes whole-crop peas are an important break crop and a valuable component of beef cattle rations.

Mr Lee had been looking for some time at replacing oilseed rape as a break crop at Sandystones Farm, Jedburgh. It was becoming uneconomical to grow as EU support declined, but he still wanted to produce home-grown feeds to justify investment in a mixer wagon.

He had also been finding it increasingly difficult to source GM-free protein feeds to meet standards for his Waitrose contract to finish progeny from his 110-cow Aberdeen Angus suckler herd.

But poor seed-beds for the Espace peas he grew on 8ha (19 acres) and an early harvest last year meant a less than rewarding whole-crop harvest, with 10.5% crude protein and yields of 6.25t/ha (2.5t/acre).

"No spring crops performed well last year – it was a wet and difficult season. With better seed-bed conditions, I would hope for a yield of 10t/ha."

With this yield, taking area aid payments into account, Mr Lee reckons pea whole-crop would cost about £29/ha to make on a dry matter basis. In reality, last years crop cost £37/ha because of the lower yield.

"Peas are one of the cheapest home-grown forms of energy, but they have to give a good yield to become an economical part of the ration. They have enormous value as a break crop. Wheat – and particularly first wheat – is an important part of this farms income and peas can contribute up to 40kg of nitrogen/ha to the following crop.

"Seed-bed preparation was simple, with 250kg of 0:24:24 applied before ploughing. A seed rate of 220kg/ha was used in the combination drill at sowing in mid-April and the crop was then rolled," he says.

Because of IACS rules, Mr Lee included 10% spring barley seed at 21kg/ha (8kg/acre) in the mix. He says it was hard to achieve an even spread of the two crops, and competition meant that it looked as if fields contained 20% barley. This season, IACS regulations may allow him to sow peas alone and this should raise feed quality of the ensiled material.

Peas received no chemical treatment. An oilseed rape swather was used at harvest on Aug 8 and four days later the crop was round baled at about 33% DM. A whole-crop legume additive was included to assist fermentation and bales were wrapped with six layers of plastic.

"I was committed to the harvest date because it fitted in with other work, but I would prefer baling at 40% DM. At harvest, the pea pod could easily be split between the fingers.

"In the end I was left with a high energy feed, instead of the high protein I had hoped for. But peas were much easier to handle at harvest than I had expected." &#42