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Winter peas could be grain, forage and a cover crop in North Carolina

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North Carolina State University graduate student Rachel Atwell stands in front of a winter pea test plot at the Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury. N.C State is looking at winter pea as a grain, forage and cover crop in North Carolina.

Researchers at North Carolina State University are looking to winter peas as a possible feed grain crop for North Carolina livestock production.

Speaking at the 2016 Central Piedmont Small Grains Field Day at the Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury April 21, Rachel Atwell, a graduate student at N.C. State under the advisement of Chris Reberg-Horton, associate professor and organic cropping specialist,  said winter peas show potential as a grain, cover crop and forage crop in North Carolina. “Winter pea is a legume, similar to soybean, that has high protein content depending on variety ranging from 20 to 35 percent,” Atwell said.

A benefit of winter peas over soybeans is that winter peas don’t have to be heated prior to animal consumption, which means a potential reduction in processing costs for winter peas as a livestock feed ration. “Winter peas also fit well into the North Carolina producers’ rotation. It can be planted from mid-September through mid-October, and in our experience it can be harvested at a similar time as wheat, possibly slightly later,” Atwell said.

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At the Piedmont station, Central Crops station, and Caswell station, N.C. State is examining 18 genotypes provided by the USDA winter pea breeder. “Most of the breeding efforts for winter pea have occurred in the northwest United States so the genetics really have not been screened or adapted to the Southeast and North Carolina,” Atwell explained. “We are screening these genetics in monoculture but also in mixture with small grains.”

Atwell points out that having a small grain in the mixture with winter pea enhances the nutritive content if it is going to be direct fed to livestock. “Winter pea and small grains can be harvested simultaneously and we experienced good success harvesting winter pea and wheat together last year using the soybean sieve in our combine. We are still trying to wrap our heads around  timing of  harvest of these winter peas because many genotypes have indeterminate growth habits,” she said.

Still, disease pressure is a challenge for winter pea production. In Salisbury and at another winter pea research site in Clayton, ascochyta blight and fusarium wilt have impacted winter peas. In addition, Atwell noted that sclerotinia pressure was high at the Kinston winter pea research plot. “There is work that needs be done in sclerotinia resistance in these pea genotypes,” she said.

Last year, reliable winter pea yield data was only found at the Clayton research site. The highest yielding winter pea genotypethere in mixture with wheat produced 1,400 pounds per acre while wheat yields were between 10 to 20 bushels per acre, Atwell noted.  Winter pea was seeded at 60 lbs/acre in mixture and wheat was only seeded at 30 lbs/acre to avoid outcompeting the winter pea. “We are looking forward to having three more locations of yield data this year to inform the results that we observed last year,” she said.

“One thing that became obvious is some of the highest yielding pea genotypes are dwarf genotypes which are going to have limited value as forage and cover crops. We have started another trial where we are evaluating these genotypes in monoculture and in mixture with oats, barley and wheat to try to widen the window of forage harvest and get an idea of forage and cover crop quality,” she said.

“Right now we are focusing on getting the best genetics for winter pea in North Carolina for these different end uses. And if this is something that is going to take off in popularity, there is definitely more agronomic work that would need to be done to make reliable recommendations in this system,” Atwell said.

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