Not all crops are created equal. Sometimes, crops have the ability to contribute far more than their yield to an operation. Today we meet with Howard Nelson, a recently retired agronomist at Highline Grain Growers and Mark Sheffels a farmer who lives in Eastern Washington, the territory Howard once covered.

During his career, Howard focused his efforts on finding another crop to work into a wheat rotation to overwinter. He settled on fall sown peas for its nitrogen fixing ability and marketability as a crop. He then had to find a variety that would best thrive in the harsh winters of Eastern Washington.  The Blaze pea variety he selected may look different than conventional peas but that doesn’t take away from the farmers ability to find a market as they are commonly used as an ingredient and the outside look is less significant. Apart from a new system of planting he also had to develop a new herbicide regimen. 

“We have different issues because we’re looking at winter annual weeds versus spring germination weeds. So our major weeds are the mustard weeds….and then of course our grassy weeds….Pretty much we do all of our weed control, post emergent in the spring.” – Howard Nelson

The nitrogen fixed by the peas will help support the next crop introduced to that field. Farmers typically see fewer root diseases in wheat that follows peas. There is evidence of more micronutrients including phosphorus and sulfur in the soil following a pea harvest. All of this contributes to better yields in the wheat that follows the pea crop. 

“The one year we had a 17 bushel increase in winter wheat, following peas versus wheat following wheat, which is almost a 30% increase with no additional costs. It didn’t cost this grower anything.” – Howard Nelson

Howard helped guide Mark Sheffels operation in adding fall sown peas. After “dabbling” in peas for many years, Mark added the peas into his rotation and has seen great advantages in his wheat production. He is impressed by the ability of peas to germinate when planted 5-6 inches deep in order to have access to moisture in the soil. He is also pleased to see the benefits the crop has had on his soil’s health without requiring additional inputs. 

“With the peas and the change in rotation, it just opens up a lot of opportunities to run much cleaner rotations. And biologically……we can do things to make our soils healthier, more productive and put them in a position to sequester more nitrogen out of the atmosphere for themselves. – Mark Sheffels

This Week on Growing Pulse Crops:

Growing Pulse Crops Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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