Field peas for northern Michigan

With volatile and rising purchased grain costs, field peas may be a good farm-grown option.

With record high prices for corn and expensive soybean meal, costs for purchased feeds have skyrocketed, especially in areas of Michigan where climate does not allow dependable corn grain harvest and soybeans are out of the question. Maybe it’s a good time for another look at a historically important grain crop that has virtually disappeared from the local scene: the field pea. Amazing, since 78,000 acres of field peas were raised in Wisconsin in 1909, and Pea Line Road in Chippewa County, Michigan, reflects the importance of the crop in times past. Times have changed.

According to the North Dakota State University Carrington Research Extension Center 2006 report, The Feeding Value of Field Peas, 100 pounds of field peas contains the equivalent protein and energy content of a blend of about 42.1 pounds of soybean meal and 57.9 pounds of corn grain. Using average Upper Peninsula feed prices from March 2011, the value of field peas ($/bu) based on corn and soybean meal equivalency is about $9.81/bu.

Average yields of several field pea varieties tested at the Upper Peninsula Agricultural Experiment Station in Chatham, Mich., were 36 bushels/acre in 2006 and 32 bushels/acre in 2007. The high yields in 2006 and 2007 were 40 and 32 bushels/acre, respectively. Depending on the cost of field pea production on individual farms and the local cost of corn and soybean meal, this may pencil out to an interesting option.

As with every crop, field peas have their own quirks. Field peas need well-drained soils and need to be planted as early as possible. They will tolerate low soil pH, a real advantage on many northern Michigan soils. Nitrogen requirement is low, since peas are leguminous and P and K requirement is moderate – similar to soybeans. The crop will benefit from sulfur fertilizer on lighter, non-manured soils. Applying 100 pounds of 21-0-0 (ammonium sulfate) fertilizer per acre will provide a good boost of N and adequate sulfur. Seed inoculation is critically important. Variety selection is also critical, with grain – not forage – varieties adapted to more moist conditions giving best results.

Plant diseases, including seed rots, fusarium and mildews are real concerns, but can be controlled with a four-year rotation. Field peas are very frost tolerant and will result in a nitrogen residual for following crops of about 1 to 1.25 pounds nitrogen per bushel produced.

Harvest is relatively early, probably the first week of August in northern Michigan, so rotation with winter wheat planted soon after pea harvest is a possibility. Special equipment is not required; a grain drill or 15” row planter and combine will work. The grain doesn’t need to be roasted or extruded for livestock feeding like soybeans.

Where farmers rely heavily on purchased energy and protein feeds, field peas may provide an economic alternative. Field peas contain 24 percent crude protein and an energy content identical to corn of 90 percent TDN.

For more information, contact Jim Isleib, MSU Extension, at or 906-387-2530.

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