by Chaunce Stanton, Marketing Manager
Dry peas, also known as field peas, are marketed for both human consumption and for animal feed. With upticks in the pet food market and in human health-oriented products such as nutrition bars and protein shakes, some of which include pea protein, greater demand for peas is resulting in more acres planted.
Field Peas are Versatile – and In Demand
Lovers of split pea soup may not know that the hearty bowl in front of them is the result of field peas that have been split with the hulls removed, but peas have gone bigger than the bowl.
Many farmers already know the joy of field peas in rotation to cut for forage and for use as a cover crop, but the demand for field peas as a food commodity is on the rise. In fact, according to Forbes, the plant-based food market is expected to reach more than $6 billion by 2023. At least part of this booming demand is consumer response to concerns over climate change, a topic that has received much media attention and has spurred interest in plant-based diets.
Farmers looking for cash crop options have been responding to the demand for plant-based proteins in the food-grade and specialty pet food markets have been increasing the acres of field peas they plant for food manufacturers and ingredient producers looking to cash in on pea protein. Pea ingredients now are used in everything from cereals, flour, protein bars and health drinks.
In the Upper Midwest, food ingredient companies like PURIS already are making inroads on acres. PURIS contracts with growers in 14 states to manufacture plant-based ingredients made from non-GMO soybeans, pulses, lentils, and corn. PURIS’s growers alone will account for more than 300,000 acres planted of peas and other pulses in 2020.
One surprising use of peas for human consumption is as part of the U.S. international federal food assistance program known as Food for Peace and domestic food aid programs. In fact, up to 17 percent of all dry peas produced in the U.S. go into government food aid programs and 24 percent of exports. For example, a majority of field peas processed by the Gavilon Group is sold to the U.S. government.
Two states, Montana and North Dakota, account for roughly half of all domestic dry pea production thanks to their growing climates, which are ideal for field peas, but increasing dry pea production isn’t limited to the United States. In Canada, both yellow and green dry peas are grown for both food and feed; more than 95% of the acres planted are intended for human edible food markets. Reports indicate an increase of 300,000 Canadian acres planted into field peas for a total of approximately 4.3 million acres. Of those acres, roughly 80 percent will be planted with yellow peas. More than 85 percent of Canada’s pulse (legume for food) production is exported to other countries, like India.
And what about more fun uses for field peas? A study by U.K. researchers has found that peas also can be fermented into gin with a smaller environmental footprint than wheat, but it probably will be a few years before U.S. distilleries catch that pea gin wave in any volume affecting the buyer’s market.
Farmers can reap other benefits from planting field peas, too. Integrating field peas in the rotation adds nitrogen to the soil and can break weed and pest cycles. Because field peas typically are harvested in July, many farmers can take advantage of the late summer/early fall a planting window for cover crops, winter wheat, hybrid winter rye, or fast-establishing winter forages. – and with 26 percent protein and 36 percent total starch, field peas can even provide on-farm forage value for grazing cattle as a protein supplement.
Maintain Quality for Premiums and Avoid Rejected Loads of Peas
High quality dry peas can result in higher price premiums if they are rated as food-grade, and a lower price is paid for livestock-feed-grade peas. The primary defects in dry peas that buyers look for include:
- Discoloration from frost, heat, stains or other damage
- Mold evident
- High levels of dockage (underdeveloped dry peas, pieces of dry peas, and foreign material)
- High moisture content
Buyers of Field Peas
Many companies contract with growers for peas, both organically and conventionally. If you’re considering adding peas for market to your rotation, remember that specialty crops such as field peas typically are grown under contract, so connect with buyers before you decide to plant to understand approved varieties and quality measures. Please reach out to these companies directly to learn more about pea contract specifics:
If you represent a company who purchases peas from or contracts with farmers, please contact us to be included in this list.