Field pea (Pisum sativum L.) has been an important grain legume crop for millennia, seeds showing domesticated characteristics dating from at least 7000 years ago have been found in archaeological sites in Turkey. The seed is used both as animal feed and for human consumption. It is closely related to the garden pea, whose immature pods and seeds are used throughout the world as green vegetables.
There are several types of field pea grown in Australia. Dun types are the most common; they usually have purple or faintly pink flowers and seeds that have yellow cotyledons and mixture of either green or brown seed coats. Some dun varieties, though, have almost uniformly green (Helena) or light brown to cream (Kaspa) seed coats.
Round-white peas (called yellow peas in North America and Europe) are also grown in significant quantities, particularly in eastern Australia. These types generally have white flowers, yellow cotyledons and a white-creamy seed coat. Other field pea types include blue (called green peas in North America), marrowfat and maple peas. These are specialist type peas and are not grown widely in Australia.
Canada and France dominate world export markets and produce mainly white peas. Australia is the major exporter of dun type peas. Victoria and South Australia have historically been the largest Australian field pea producers, but production has recently expanded considerably in Western Australia as a result of better varieties and improved production technology. More than 90% of the field pea grown in WA is the Kaspa dun type, with the majority of the grain exported to the Indian sub-continent for food.
Field pea is the most widely adapted pulse crop in WA, being suited to a wide range of fine and medium textured soils and to both medium and low rainfall environments. Field pea has unique farming system advantages because it can be sown later than most other annual crops. This allows weeds to germinate; with adequate time left for control by either mechanical means, or with non-selective herbicides, before sowing.
The early maturity of field pea also makes it ideally suited to crop topping to prevent seed set of surviving in-crop weeds. The reduced reliance on selective herbicides provides a very useful tool in the battle against herbicide resistant weeds. The late sowing and early harvest means the planting and harvest windows of the cropping program as a whole can be widened, thus allowing more efficient labour and machinery use.
Field pea provides substantial rotational benefits to subsequent cereal and oilseed crops. The three main areas of benefit are weed management, disease break–root and foliar diseases and through the addition of nitrogen through nitrogen fixation to the soil.