Growers optimistic as pea harvest gets under way

The pea harvest is under way, with fieldsmen planning to work around the clock for the next eight weeks amid growing optimism of much better yields in 2013.

After last year’s washout summer cut pea production by 45% in the UK, yields are expected to return to normal this year. Although the late spring delayed crop development, the cooler, windier weather has reduced disease incidence.

Growers are looking forward to a more straightforward harvest than last year, when harvesting machines struggled to cope with swamp-like conditions.

As the giant pea viners start rolling, growers up and down the east coast of England and Scotland are working hard to gather the crop during the harvest season.

“Over the next couple of months, Britain’s vining pea growers will harvest the equivalent of two billion individual portions of peas,” said James Hallett, chief executive of the British Growers Association.

“Home-grown peas remain the gold standard for quality, taste and flavour, a key source of healthy nutrients and a ‘green’ option for Britain’s growers.

“After last year’s devastating harvest, it is great to see the 2013 vining pea campaign get under way with a return to more normal conditions.”

Thousands of garden peas and petit pois are due to be picked by pea producer Birds Eye as part of a military-style operation to ensure that the much loved veg goes from picked to frozen in less than 150 minutes.

Last year, Birds Eye sold 233,724,881,710 peas – enough to fill 42 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Birds Eye head of agriculture James Young said: “Pea vines are particularly susceptible to bad weather and we certainly suffered as a result of this last year.

“We’re feeling more confident about the 2013 harvest, but there are still challenges to rise above, so every minute over the coming months will be critical.”

The UK is the largest producer of peas for freezing in Europe, growing about 35,000ha of vining peas each year – the equivalent of 70,000 football pitches. A national institution, Brits eat a staggering 150m kilos of garden peas and petit pois every year.

Pea production also offers significant environmental benefits. As a key part of the farming rotation, the pea break crop helps return nitrogen to the soil and allows growers to reduce their fertiliser use for future cropping patterns.

Planting peas as a break crop also enables growers to cut back on weed control chemicals in following crops.

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