Mackane Vogel here with this week’s Cover Crop Connection. Winter peas can be a great addition to a cover crop mix for many growers, but the cost of these seeds can be high and the return on investment doesn’t always pay off. USDA plant research geneticist Lisa Kissing Kucek is in Madison, Wis., at the forage research center where she and other researchers have been breeding winter peas for 7 years in a nationwide cover crop breeding network to study spring vigor, winter vigor, biomass and other benefits of various cover crop species.

“So the story with peas is we’ve been quite successful at improving that winter hardiness, but we still can’t promise that a grower in some harsher environments like Minnesota is going to get reliable survival of peas. So, the peas are looking great this year as they do many years. So here is one of our best lines for winter survival and a variety that is nearing release now. These peas though, although we see good survival in this nursery this year, especially for some of our best lines that are winter hardy like this one in front of me and that one down there, that were selected in Minnesota and North Dakota, respectively. We only had 7% of these peas survive in Minnesota this year. So, there is a big contrast with environment and winter conditions, freeze-thaw and snow cover that can influence survival. So, right now we are building a large database in order to really map across the country — what’s the likelihood of survival for this species in different parts of the country. And right now, the northern Great Plains and northern Midwest is still a high risk area to grow peas. And as a really big seed that has a high seeding rate in a  cover crop mix, peas are really expensive. So we want to really paint that picture for growers so they can get an accurate estimate of what’s their likelihood of getting money out of putting peas in a mix vs. just losing it to winter.”

Lisa says one way to enhance survival is planting the peas as deep as 2 and a half or 3 inches or pairing winter peas with a grass in a mixture to help create a buffer for those tough winter conditions.