Project Highlight: Replacing Summer Fallow with Grain-type Field Peas in Semiarid Cropping Systems
As farmers in western Nebraska face higher cash rents and property taxes, many want a more profitable, sustainable alternative to fallow for crop rotation. Strahinja Stepanovic, a University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension educator, received a SARE grant to find suitable crops for the mix.
Some farmers in the High Plains have begun to use spring-planted pulse crops as an alternative to summer fallow. Pulse crops are legumes harvested for their beans and include chickpeas, lentils, and field peas. Replacing fallow with a pulse crop can help farmers cope with the weather- and market-related fluctuations by improving soil health and diversifying the crop mix. However, while many farmers in Nebraska are interested in pulse crops, they have been reluctant to adopt them due to a lack of local markets and research-based information on growing pulses in local conditions.
With support from SARE, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension educator Strahinja Stepanovic organized a team of researchers and farmers to develop agronomic best practices for growing field peas and spur farmer adoption. Stepanovic notes that before 2013, farmers raised only 10,000–20,000 acres of field peas in the Nebraska Panhandle. Between 2014 and 2018, as farmers became familiar with peas through research and outreach efforts by Stepanovic and others, acreage grew to 70,000 and spread into central and eastern Nebraska. Production is slated to continue to expand.
Depending on the year, farmers may report gains of $50 per acre. That is a significant improvement compared to $40–$90 per-acre expenses associated with spraying herbicides to control weeds in fallow. There are three pea processors in Nebraska and about eight seed companies, so getting good quality seed and marketing is much easier now.