Field peas have been getting some press in recent years as an alternative crop on the High Plains, and more good news was revealed this month when the University of Nebraska’s 2017 Field Pea Variety Trial Results were released.

The pea trials consisted of seven plots with up to 25 varieties at each location in Scotts Bluff, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Lincoln, Perkins and Webster counties, the university says. Newer varieties with slightly higher yields, and completely new lines, were included along with older, more robust and consistent lines. 

Most of the varieties were planted between March 27 and April 8 into no-tilled ground in wheat or corn stubble, although there were two conventional-tillage sites, one of them with irrigation.

Varieties were seeded with an inoculant at 350,000 live seeds an acre at row spacings of 7½ inches, and the weed-control program included pre-plant Sharpen, Prowl and Roundup. The seven sites received 5.23 to 7.5 inches of rain, with the irrigated plot getting 6.4 inches of rain and 4.7 inches of irrigation water for 11.12 inches during the growing period.

Average yields in pounds per acre for the seven sites ranged from a low of 1,379 in Cheyenne County to 3,186 for the irrigated, conventionally tilled plot in Scotts Bluff County. Another conventionally tilled field without irrigation yielded the second highest at 2,906 pounds.

However, a plot in Box Butte County, where peas were no-tilled into wheat stubble, hybrids there still managed to raise an average of 2,600 pounds an acre with only 5.23 inches of rain coming during the growing period.

While the conventionally tilled plots had the highest average yields, it seems clear that tillage isn’t required to successfully raise field peas. It would be interesting to pencil out the labor, fuel and equipment costs incurred for the conventionally tilled plots vs. no-tilled plots.

Dipak Santra, alternative crops breeding specialist at the university’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center at Scottsbluff, coordinated the variety trials. He notes that 100,000 acres of field peas were planted in the state this year, and the production area has expanded east to the Lexington-Holdrege area in south-central Nebraska.

I think it’s a good idea for no-tillers on the High Plains, and in other geographic areas where this makes sense, to continue to examine the opportunities this cool-season crop brings as an alternative to summer fallow in semi-arid, cereal-based cropping systems.

Click here to read more from the University of Nebraska Extension about field peas and what they can do for your rotation. And in this column, former No-Till Notes columnist Mark Watson shares tips for taking the proper nitrogen credits in crops following peas.