Growing Yellow Field Peas: A Farmer's Perspective

Clay Govier

Jul 11, 2024

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The blog post below was originally contributed by Clay Govier, a fifth generation farmer in Central Nebraska. It was most recently updated in July 2024.

Yellow field peas are often an overlooked alternative to soybeans, corn, and wheat, but they offer significant agronomic benefits.

Not to be confused with garden peas, or English peas, field peas are actually beans. They are a rotation bean that, instead of being grown in smaller-scale gardens, are grown in fields. Types of field peas include purple hull peas, crowder peas, lady peas, zipper peas, green peas, and yellow peas.

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The USDA predicted lower returns on corn, soybeans, and wheat in 2024. How did the FBN® planting intentions analysis compare to the USDA’s? Find out here

Yellow Peas vs. Green Peas: Similarities and Differences

Yellow Peas vs. Green Peas: Similarities

Both yellow peas, also known as golden peas, and green peas have a high nutritional value and are particularly rich in protein.

Because of their efficient protein ration, they are often mixed with grain, hay, forage, and silage and fed to livestock including cattle, poultry, and pigs.

The two pea varieties also benefit farm soil health by fixing nitrogen in the soil and requiring limited fertilizer, less tending, and less water than other crop options.

Yellow Peas vs. Green Peas: Differences

Yellow field peas have up to 32% protein content, which is 10% more than green peas.

Yellow peas also have a generally higher production than green peas, likely because of their inherent resistance to climate fluctuation. Their flavor is also more mild than green peas, making them a favorable ingredient to use in vegan protein powder and other products.

Growing Yellow Field Peas

We chose to grow yellow field peas on our farm for the past three years to diversify our typical corn-soybean rotation and as a “defensive” crop. While yellow field peas are not overly profitable, the agronomic benefits for subsequent crops carry significant value.

This is especially true on non-irrigated acres where annual precipitation is 20 inches or less. Water-use efficiency for the crop following yellow field peas is much higher. On our non-irrigated acres, we’ve also seen higher corn yields and improved plant health following peas.

I’ve heard from other pea producers, anecdotally, that peas can provide benefits for the following two growing seasons. 

Plus, yellow field peas can be planted and harvested much earlier than corn or soybeans. This allows us to spread out our planting and harvest windows, minimizing risk and reducing the stress that the planting and harvest season typically bring.

Where we are in central Nebraska, planting peas gives us a much larger fall seeding window, which gives it an advantage over wheat, which can be difficult to get established after soybean harvest in the fall.

If you practice summer fallow or are open to exploring a multi-species cover crop, field peas are a crop that you should consider.

How to Grow Yellow Field Peas

We use a John Deere 1990 air seeder with 7.5” spacing to drill peas at a 300-350k population. A thick stand is important for yield and season-long weed control, so I haven’t seeded any wider than 10” spacing. 

Field peas can tolerate much colder conditions than corn or soybeans, so on our farm, we target the end of March to the first week in April for our planting window.

This allows for bloom and pollination to wrap up before the bulk of the summer heat arrives, and then we harvest in late July to early August.

Our fertilizer program is pretty basic. Peas are a legume, so a typical soybean fertilizing program works great. At a minimum, we apply 100-150 pounds of MAP per acre. Being a legume, peas do use a lot of calcium. We use gypsum to get calcium and sulfur into our fertilizer mix.

The remainder of our fertilizer mix is dependent on the soil’s needs based on sampling we do every 3-4 years.

Pea inoculant, another important factor, is different from soybean inoculant. Particularly when we first started planting peas, we were sure to double inoculate.

The peat-based inoculant is cheap, so the more the merrier as long as it doesn’t hurt seed flow during planting. Our seed dealer is able to provide us with this inoculant. 

We’ve had good success controlling weeds with a pre-emerge pass of Spartan® Charge. This herbicide costs around $20/ac plus application costs. We did attempt a post-emerge application of a Raptor® and Basagran® mix once when kochia was getting a little thick with limited success considering cost.

Search FBN’s pest pages to learn how to manage kochia and more pests.

A high seeding rate and a thick stand is your best bet for season-long weed control. Most dry, edible bean herbicide programs will work for peas (i.e. Dual and Outlook®). Of course, consult your herbicide dealer and/or agronomist for the best options for your region. 

Harvest is very similar to soybean harvest with a few exceptions. To ensure a consistent harvest without a lot of green peas or green weeds to contend with, we sometimes use a desiccant, such as Gramoxone®, to terminate the field. 

We typically use a flex head for soybean harvest, and it also works great for field pea harvest. If you invested in a flex draper head, you might want to borrow a neighbor’s standard flex head.

Peas tie themselves together using their tendrils and won’t flow into the combine using a flex draper. They can actually roll right over the head and you’ll have a mess in a hurry. 

We harvest peas at a slightly higher moisture than soybeans to reduce shattering and splits which could result in dockage at the elevator.

If we’re going to handle the grain more than once or twice, we use a conveyor instead of metal augers, which will damage the grain even more. This is also true when handling seed at planting.

READ: 5 Things You Need to Know Before Planting

Do We Make Any Money on Field Peas?

For a quick profit analysis, our annual costs (above) can run around $200/ac, and if we grow 50 bu/ac and sell them at $6/bu, which nets us about $100/ac. 

Of course, this doesn’t account for the agronomic benefits for the next crop or two, which are more difficult to quantify without long-term studies.

As yellow field peas are non-proprietary, we’ve recently begun holding back and cleaning enough seed for the next year. There is a little risk and more logistical issues, but we estimate we’re saving about $20-$25/ac.

Is There a Market for Yellow Field Peas?

This is typically the first question that I am asked when discussing yellow field pea production. In central Nebraska, nearly every acre is corn, soybeans, wheat, or alfalfa.

There is a more developed market for peas in the Nebraskan panhandle where small grains and pulse crops are more prevalent. Gavilon built a pea processing facility in Hastings, Nebraska, so hopefully this will create a more stable market for field peas.

What Are Yellow Field Peas Used For?

Peas are a great protein source. If I had my own small cattle or hog operation, I think feeding peas would be a good option since they are a balanced protein.

When sold to an elevator, yellow field peas likely go to a dog or cat food manufacturer or are ground and used in vegetarian protein powders.

If they are higher quality peas and considered food-grade, then you might even find them in a can of split pea soup at your local grocery store!

If you’d like to learn more about why you should consider field peas in your operation please feel free to contact me at

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Clay Govier

Jul 11, 2024

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