THERE is no shortage of choice when it comes to field pea varieties, says Cathy Knott of the Processors and Growers Research Organisation.
The down side is that relatively few growers may get the chance to grow them this season. "There are some good, quite new varieties on the recommended list," says Ms Knott. "But there is very little seed of them being multiplied."
NIAB figures show three varieties dominated the certified seed area for sowing this spring – Eiffel, Elan and the human consumption-type Princess had 16%, 11.8% and 12.1% shares.
Old standby Solara, now losing out on yield, and long strawed Grafila together accounted for about 11%. Good new names, like Focus, Alfetta, Carrera, and Chorale each occupied at best 2.4%. "Although, in some cases seed may be available from other countries."
Carrera in particular combines good downy mildew defence and ease of combining, notes Ms Knott. "Mildew resistance is certainly important as last season reminded us."
Eiffel and provisionally recommended Espace have the same 8 score for mildew resistance, as well as the best combined figures for standing ability and ease of harvest. "Eiffel was in short supply last year because a lot of seed went abroad. But farmers like it for its combining characteristics.
"Espace looks outstanding. But it is not being sold for the pet-food market because the seed might be considered too small by some micronisers. It is better to think of it purely as a feed pea."
Fully recommended, large blues Hampton and Elan have both been used for micronising. Elan, scoring 8, has slightly better downy mildew resistance.
Baccara should continue to attract growers as joint top yielder, Ms Knott believes. But after human consumption-type Maro it is the weakest strawed listed variety and will usually require a seed-dressing against mildew.
Badminton and Bonanza, both white seeded, along with Espace, make up the trio of newcomers with better agronomic features.
Human consumption suppliers see their choice of recommended varieties reduced since last year.
The marrowfats Maro, first listed in 1985 and still one of the best for canning whole, and the slightly younger Princess used for packets are both very susceptible to downy mildew, warns Ms Knott. "Progreta will still be acceptable for some markets. Bunting is grown solely on contract to van den Berg."
"The market for round, smooth-skinned pigeon feed peas seems to be getting plenty of attention. But at about 10,000t a year it is small beside the estimated 1.1m tonnes a year requirement for animal feed."
Coloured flowered variety Minerva remains the top quality choice, she suggests.
"But it is long strawed and had a bad season last year when it lodged." New semi-leafless types like Racer may provide useful alternatives in 1999.
Yield ratings of
Animal feed types.
102 Baccara, Focus
100 Alfetta, Carrera, Chorale
99 Eiffel, Hampton
102 Badminton, Bonanza, Espace
Human consumption types.
Peas can prove an attractive break crop, especially if grown for specialist markets. Indeed growers aiming for the human consumption market can now refer to a special section in the NIAB handbook.