Ukraine. To pea or not to pea?

09.08.2017

By Peter Thomson, Agrarian

Not so long ago, pulses, with the exception of soybeans, were considered niche crops, subject to wide fluctuations in supply and demand balance with resultant price volatility, and for a long time, for the Black Sea region, yellow pea prices, for example, as one of the larger participants in the group, were just too low to be worth considering.

In the last few years, though, with variable harvests in Canada, by far and away the biggest exporter of non-soybean pulses, and growing demand, especially from the Indian sub-continent, prices have increased and hit records here and there. For Ukraine in 2016, for example, the stand-alone economics of yellow peas grown to Ukrainian DSTU standards, with a yield of 2.7 T/ha, would compare favorably with a 2.3 T/ha crop of sunflower.

Other pulses - chickpeas, lentils, (non-soy) beans in all their different forms, and other types of peas - blue, marrowfat, etc. all sort of follow the yellow pea logic. Mostly because they are interchangeable elements of the staple diet of nigh on 2 billion people (just the Indian subcontinent has a population approaching 2bn souls).

Pros:

Early planting, spreads machinery use.

Early harvest, likewise spreads equipment usage, also allows moisture accumulation for succeeding crop. Practical experience shows yield increases of around 20-25% in a following wheat crop, compared to wheat after sunflower.

Leaves residue with good C/N ratio, improves yield or allows economy of applied nitrogen fertilizer for subsequent crop.

New varieties allow for yields of ~5 T/ha, easier to harvest.

Weed control issues much simpler with modern herbicides.

Fungal disease does not require treatment.

Pests: in Ukraine, one or maximum 2 treatments required to control Bruchus infestation, other pests not yet any issue.

Accessible protein source - yellow peas are about 25% protein.

The combined effect of nitrogen residue and accumulated moisture can add 1 T/ha to a following wheat crop in practice.

If used to substitute for sunflower in the crop rotation, as an entry for wheat, for example, allows earlier planting of the wheat.

Cons:

Harvest window is short, need to get the crop off the field in 5-10 days to avoid losses.

Storage: dry peas roll about all over the place and don’t hold well in piles. Flat floor storage is well, problematic.

Harvesting: dry peas are hard on augers and conveyors, cause increased stress and wear.

Hedging instruments not yet easily available for the crop.

What really interests me about pulses is the small amount of energy or, in other words the simplicity of converting raw dry peas to a ready food product - all it takes is polishing to remove the hilum or skin, and splitting. No milling, crushing, extracting, fermentation or baking.

Food for thought?

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