There are two main premium outlets for large blue peas; the first is micronizing – where peas are processed and toasted giving better nutritional value in products such as animal feed.
The second is for the human consumption market, where they find their way into anything from tins of mushy peas to packets of split peas for use in soups and sauces.
“In recent seasons, the large blue has been perceived as the poorer relative of the marrowfat pea, with more attractive contracts tempting growers into planting marrowfat types each spring,” says Limagrain UK’s pulse product manager George Hunter.
“That trend is being reversed, however, with a glut of marrowfats trimming margins and a weaker sterling reopening export markets on the continent for large blues.”
Franek Smith of Dunns (Long Sutton) Ltd and president of the British Edible Pulses Association (BEPA), agrees but underlines the importance of quality of large blues in order to meet end-user requirements.
“From an industry perspective, quality on large blue (Green) peas is paramount. 2017 was a very difficult, protracted harvest for peas with constantly changing weather – ideal conditions to affect the quality of peas.”
“We have seen a range of values for large blues, anywhere from the most bleached being worth only animal feed, up to £170 ex-farm for canning. The best quality samples, which have been used for export or micronizing have reached as much as £235 ex farm – this is mainly due to the lack of availability. Growers should focus on quality of produce as (this year specifically) it has affected the price by as much as £65/t.”
George Hunter points out that whichever market the crop is destined for, the appearance of the final product is critical to maximising returns.
He adds that with current premiums £50-£90/t above the feed pea price, there is a big incentive to grow for micronizing or human consumption for much improved gross margins.
“Although some select on size, for most processors it is all about the colour of the pea and the first thing growers can do to ensure they get the right colour is to choose the right variety,” he explains.
Franek Smith agrees. “Certain varieties retain their colour much better than others and this is only proven in difficult years. Generally, for the micronizing industry, the greenest peas are used. They are steamed and rolled into flakes for inclusion in animal feed. No artificial colours are added, so colour is paramount as the customer buying the product expects to see a certain level of green.”
“Another important market for the best quality peas is for splitting; this is to produce green split peas. These are used in packets, for snacks and even into Europe for soups and casseroles – again, the customer expects all the peas to be green as it’s the name of the product!”
The large blue pea market has been dominated by a handful of varieties over recent years – namely Daytona, Campus and Prophet – but newer additions such as Kingfisher have genetic traits that aid all-important colour retention.
Added to the PGRO Recommended List in 2016, it not only has a good all-round agronomic package, but has an inherent ability to maintain its green colour if weather delays harvest, increasing the risk of colour bleaching.
Andrew Bourne of Kent-based seeds merchant T Denne & Sons says that its [Kingfisher’s] standing ability is also a major plus, as lodging can cause pea losses through pod shatter and lower pods being subjected to damp conditions, staining the peas inside.
“Kingfisher stood well in difficult conditions this year [harvest 2017] and caught the eye alongside other leading varieties.
“As it has good genetic colour retention to start with, and can be harvested in a timely fashion, it represents a good risk management tool for growers when selecting a large blue pea variety for 2018,” he adds.
Yorkshire-based feed processor I’Ansons uses micronized large blue peas in its rations and the company’s grain buyer Howard Jackson selects largely on sample colour and to a lesser extent, size.
The firm trialled a small quantity of Kingfisher for its suitability alongside other varieties during 2017 and he says in difficult year, signs were encouraging for the variety.
“It yielded on par with [fully recommended variety] Campus, producing a well-coloured and bold sample. It’s certainly a variety that we will look out for again next year,” explains Mr Jackson.
He adds that the firm pay a healthy contract price for good quality large blues and advises growers to communicate with customers such as I’Ansons to seek contracts and be clear on market demands.