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Management

Feed peas may benefit farmers, cattle producers

Since 2000 Robin Groose, associate professor of genetics, agroecology and plant breeding at UW, has been working to develop elite lines of feed peas for producers to utilize as either forage or grain for livestock.

“The idea is that we would have something that producers could grow in rotation with wheat, as a partial replacement for fallow, that would benefit the wheat,” says Groose, “and also be used to enhance livestock production.”

Groose has worked with UW researchers Professor James Krall and Jerry Nachtman at the UW James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) at Lingle, as well as UW graduate student Azize Homer.

Using feed peas

“The peas are actually winter legumes,” says Groose. “Because they fix nitrogen, we see soil benefits.”

Groose also comments that, particularly in southeast Wyoming, many producers both grow wheat and raise cattle, but he has noticed a dissociation of the two aspects of their enterprises.

“We have producers who are both wheat growers and cattle producers, but the two aspects of their operations aren’t really integrated to any great extent,” he explains. “If you could use the wheat ground to grow something that would benefit the livestock and in turn benefit subsequent wheat crops, that would be ideal.”

“Integrated farming systems are something we think a lot about,” Groose continues. 

Groose’s research has focused on breeding a feed pea that is adapted to Wyoming and the Central Great Plains region.

Adaptation

Because existing varieties were bred for the climate of the Pacific Northwest, they don’t perform as well in Wyoming.

“We think that where we see winterkill of peas, it has more to do with desiccation – or drying out – of the peas during our cold, dry winter,” says Groose of the existing varieties.

As a result, Groose and his team began working to breed new lines of peas that are suited to Wyoming’s climate.

“We’ve been busy with this project for a long time,” comments Groose. “Our peas have been through many generations of selection in Wyoming.”

“Our breeding strategy is fairly simple minded,” says Groose, noting that they also utilized quantitative genetics in their work. “We obtained various diverse lines of winter peas, and we hybridized them in the greenhouse here in Laramie.”

The hybrid plants were grown to produce seed that would segregate for many different genes.

“From that point, we grew our populations in the Wyoming environment for several generations – several years,” he continues. “Basically, we let Mother Nature do much of the selection for us. Obviously we weren’t harvesting seeds from plants that didn’t survive!”

Elite peas

“The survivors are the winners, and we picked the best ones, which is what plant breeding is,” Groose adds.

The result was lines of the best winter peas – elite lines – that perform much better than existing varieties.

In many years of work, Groose notes, “We are especially excited that the peas will survive Wyoming winters.”

“We have done extensive tests, and we come up with yields of 25 percent or more above existing varieties,” he explains. 

Adoption

“Ultimately, we hope that Wyoming producers will try our peas and adopt them into their farming and ranching operations,” says Groose. 

In using the elite lines of peas, Groose says the crop would be planted following wheat harvest in late September and established. After establishment, the crop goes dormant and comes back in the spring.

“Anything that is established in the fall that survives the winter and wakes up in the spring is going to come on much sooner and much stronger than anything that is seeded in the spring,” he explains. “It gives them a head start.”

Currently, some Wyoming producers are utilizing existing varieties of peas with variable success, says Groose.

“What they don’t have is something that has been bred specifically for our part of the world,” he comments. “If there are varieties adapted to this part of the country, we think producers might be more likely to adopt winter peas.” 

Successful work

Groose’s research team has released a variety of an annual medic, related to alfalfa, called “Laramie” that could also be grown in rotation with wheat.  

An earlier UW variety release was “Lander” alfalfa, bred for Wyoming.  

Recently, Groose’s top pea line was approved by the Wyoming Crop Improvement Association for seed increase, with the ultimate goal of release of the variety.

“We are planting the peas this spring,” he comments. “They can be grown during the normal summer growing season for seed production.”

The peas will be planted in the Big Horn Basin for seed increase under the controlled conditions from seed producers in the area.

“They are bred, however, for dryland production and in rotation with winter wheat,” says Groose, adding, “It has been really fun working with these genes.”

Other pea research

In addition to his work with livestock feed peas, UW Associate Professor Robin Groose is also working with vegetable peas in new research.

“We wondered, if we have good lines of feed peas that survive the winter, what happens if you cross them with the food peas?” Groose explains. “We are in the early stages of identifying winter food peas that could go into the home garden or commercial vegetable production.”

Using the same strategies, he notes that vegetable growers may see the same benefits in peas that could be planted in the fall to reemerge in the spring and start producing much earlier in the season than spring-planted peas.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..