There is mounting pressure on vining pea markets as early indications from the 2011 harvest suggest yields could be down by 15-20%.
Dry spring weather across the main growing areas – which stretch from north of the Humber to Suffolk – had restricted growth, and late frosts at flowering had also impacted on yields, said Stephen Francis, a director at Fen Peas, which has 50 members harvesting over 1600ha (4000 acres) a year.
“The rain we’ve had in the last week is welcome but it won’t repair damage already done.”
Mr Francis said it was the earliest-ever start to harvest on 8 June, 10 days ahead of normal. “It’s been a bit stop-start so far, as crops have reached maturity at different times and we’re only about 15% of the way through, but I reckon yields are at least 15% below our 10-year rolling average. We’ll get a better idea once we get into the main crops in July.”
Richard Hirst, chairman of Anglian Pea Growers, which produces almost 15,000t from 3000ha, agreed that early yields were disappointing at around 15-20% down, but said there was still a long way to go in the season and later crops could fare better.
“Quality is good and we’ve still got crops that are not even flowering, so a lot will depend on the weather for the rest of the season.”
If yields are down across the season, this could add to pressure for a price rise in 2012 contract negotiations, as vining peas already face stiff competition in rotations from other cereal and break crops, which have seen significant price rises over recent months.
But, with rising food inflation and tighter consumer spending, end users may be reluctant to raise prices too far.
“It will make contract negotiations difficult if peas are to remain on a par with crops such as second wheats and oilseed rape,” Mr Francis added. “An extra penny per pound at the retail end shouldn’t affect consumers that much, but makes a real difference to us.”
[Panel] Pea and bean prices strong
Strong demand and tight supplies have buoyed combinable pulse prices over recent weeks and markets look set to remain firm.
Good quality large blue peas were priced at around £250-275/t ex-farm for harvest, with marrowfats at a similar level, up to £300/t. Beans were particularly strong, trading at a premium of £70/t over wheat, Gleadell pulse trader Ian Skinner said.
The reduced area of pulses sown this season was the main reason for the firm prices, he suggested. “Pea acreage could be 40-50% down on last year, so they are likely to be in deficit and prices remain strong.
“The bean market is the really interesting one. I believe beans are at an unsustainable premium over wheat from a compounders point of view. But there’s good demand for English human consumption beans from Egypt and the vast majority will go abroad, providing we get the quality.”