Episode 13

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Published on:

8th Sep 2020

Bringing Fall Sown Peas to Eastern Washington

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:

  • Meet Howard Nelson, an agronomist, and Mark Sheffels, a farmer, both from Eastern Washington
  • Learn about the benefits of adding fall sown peas to a wheat rotation
  • Explore the process Howard undertook to find the best protocol to make this pulse crop successful 
  • Hear Marks reaction to adding them to his operation and the benefits he has observed


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



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About the Podcast

Growing Pulse Crops
The science and business of farming field peas, chickpeas, and lentils
Join us as we follow pulse crop farmers through the growing season and dive into the research that’s helping them through some of the challenges they face. We’ll also talk to a number of other industry stakeholders along the way.

Demand for these nutrient-dense, high-protein foods continues to grow. There is also interest from farmers to include more pulses into diverse rotations for benefits like nitrogen fixation and soil health.

But the industry continues to face challenges, and we are eager to address these head on. So if you’re a pulse grower or in any way interested in these important crops, hit subscribe and stay tuned for future episodes. We’ll be back with plenty of information about challenges pulse farmers are facing throughout the U.S. and what solutions are working.

Brought to you by the Pulse Crops Working Group with support from the North Central IPM Center and USDA NIFA.

About your host

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Tim Hammerich

I share stories about agriculture, agtech, and agribusiness on podcasts and radio.