Blue pea shortage signals profitable opportunities for high-quality crops

A potential shortage of blue peas this coming season mean there are some profitable opportunities, but meeting quality specifications is vital as it can mean the difference between a £250/t and £175/t crop.

Last year saw a 40% reduction in blue pea plantings, says Limagrain’s pulse product manager, Les Daubney.

“The certified seed tonnage fell from 5,300t in 2010 to about 3,000t last season. And while PGRO predictions are for a slightly higher area this season, it is still forecast to be well below 2010 levels,” says Mr Daubney.

Howard Jackson, group grain buyer for Masham Micronized Feeds adds that there could be supply issues this year, as last year was helped by some carryover from the 2010 season. “If we see a poor harvest this year, there could be a shortage of blues.”

There are several reasons for the fall in area, most notably was that the strong cereal and oilseed rape prices tempted growers to increase their winter crop area. On top of this, there had been a succession of poor crops with growers failing to secure quality premiums and this had put some growers off, as they are effectively left with feed peas.

“There is a feed market for peas, but in practice it is difficult to find a buyer, says Mr Daubney. “A lack of quantity and consistency in supply during the year means compounders tend not to maintain a pea bin.”

But securing the premium is consistently achievable, believes Mr Daubney, by selecting the right variety, not scrimping on inputs and cutting crops earlier to avoid bleaching.

Growers should aim to produce the largest, greenest pea they can. “Smaller seeds that are bleached will lead to a declining premium. Also the sample should be clean with no broken peas.”

Colour is a key requirement of the premium pet food market, says Chris I’Anson, chairman of Masham Micronized Feeds. “We are aiming to produce a big flake and as green as possible, which adds to the visual appearance that ultimately attracts consumers.

The key cause of bleaching is exposure to rain and sun, says Mr Daubney. “As with marrowfats, harvesting crops at 18-20% moisture when they are still green and then blowing out the last few % of moisture helps prevent colour loss. Leaving it until the crop is at 16% to save on drying costs brings more risk of bleaching, particularly if it rains.

“Go out into the field and look at the crop. If you think it is near, then get them in. Leaving it a day or two is tempting to save on drying costs, but you could easily see a £250/t crop become a £175/t feed pea crop in just a couple of days.”

Cutting earlier also means stiffer straw and the canopy stands better, making it easier to combine. A crop on the floor is a nightmare to harvest. Earlier harvesting also cuts the risk of shedding.

However, he acknowledges that growers now face a harvest clash due to the trend for earlier wheat drilling sowing. “Traditionally peas were cut before wheat. Pulling your combine out of your wheat to fetch the peas is a difficult decision.”

One solution is to opt for an earlier maturing variety such as Zero4, which is ready for harvest 10 days earlier than newer varieties. It is a small, blue pea so isn’t on the Recommended List. But if you drill at 110 plants/sq m instead of the conventional 70 plants/sq m, yields are on a par with other varieties.

It typically yields about 2t/acre and is comparable with Nitouche on the Recommended List. It is short strawed at 54cm and is resistant to pea wilt. It is widely grown in the north east as early maturity is a necessity, but Mr Daubney believes it also has a place in eastern counties.

In summary, either opt for an earlier variety or if you grow one of the newer varieties, be prepared to prioritise harvest and cut at 18% to ensure retain colour, says Mr Daubney.

Micronizing blue peas

A key premium area of the blue pea market is the micronizing sector, supplying flaked peas to the various feed sectors.

Masham Micronized Feeds has been using the technology since 1974 and is one of the largest manufacturers of micronized feeds, supplying feed manufacturers across the UK and Ireland as well as other countries within Europe.

As its chairman Chris I’Anson explains, it is a cooking process using natural gas aimed at making the feed more digestible to animals. “The natural gas burners give off a certain wavelength (infra red) that causes cooking from the inside.”

Peas are pre-soaked and each grain acts as a pressure cooker and as the moisture expands, heat travels outwards and cooks the starch. Peas then pass through a roller mill to produce the highly attractive green flakes.

Micronizing is better than steam cooking as it helps retain the colour. The vibrant colour is of particular value in creating visually appealing finished feeds, especially with pet food as it attracts consumers, says Mr I’Anson.

It’s not just peas, the company micronizes many other materials including beans, cereals, maize and oilseeds tailoring the time and temperature.

The process breaks down the anti-nutritive factors, so more energy and nutrients are available to livestock. This is particularly beneficial for starter diets for younger animals, says Mr I’Anson.

Micronized peas are sold as raw materials into the feed sector and are included in feeds for ruminants, monogasteric and small pets UK wide and also exported. “The pet food market is still growing, increasing opportunities for UK blue pea growers.”

Pulse market at a glance

There are three key types of pulses, marrowfats, white and blue peas.

Marrowfat peas are mostly grown on contract with peas going for canning as mushy peas or export to the Far East.

White peas are the old feed pea and are a premium product used in pigeon mixes and for producing split peas and pea flour. However, it is a very small market, accounting for about 8% of the certified tonnage in 2010.

The bulk of the pea acreage is large blues and there are two key premium markets. Some go for canning as mushy peas as a lower price alternative to marrowfats when there is a shortage.

But the main premium market is the micronizing sector, supplying a high quality raw material to the animal feed and premium pet food sectors.

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