Hello, Ashtabula County! We often say that Ashtabula County is one of the most diverse agricultural counties in the state of Ohio. And when you start thinking about it, it is very true. You name it, and we grow or raise it. 

We have dairy, beef, swine, lamb, horses, goats, poultry, and even fish, elk and rabbit! And for crops, we have soybeans, corn, wheat, oats, hay, vegetables, grapes, apples, peaches, maple, cut flowers, nursery crops and even miscanthus grass.  

That is a pretty diverse portfolio of animals and crops. But guess what, there is still room for more! Today, I would like to share details on the newest crop which farmers are growing in Ashtabula County; this being Field Pea.

Last Friday, I had the chance to visit with Tom Yuhasz and Danny Aulizia at Colebrook Elevator about this new crop. Yuhasz reports that Colebrook Elevator is purchasing the harvest of 3,000 acres of field pea from across Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2017.  

Best of all, more than 800 acres of these acres were grown right here in Ashtabula County. The harvest of this crop was completed last week across Ashtabula County.

I know our office received a lot of calls this past spring from curious folks about the new field crop they were seeing that had pretty white flowers. Of course, the crop they were calling about was field pea. 

The first fields of this crop were planted by the Yuhasz family 4 years ago and their acreage has increased steadily since.

So why are farmers exploring the possibility of growing field pea in northeast Ohio? Bottom line: it is about producing crops which have a market and will maximize return! 

So what are they being used for? In short, you could say the slogan for field pea grown in Ashtabula County is “Peas for Pets!”  

The destination for these peas is to the Ainsworth Pet Nutrition plant in Meadville, Pa. In fact, a lot of corn and soybeans from Ashtabula County have been sold for years to this manufacturing facility.

Most of us will recognize Ainsworth Pet Nutrition dog food brand, Dad’s Dog Food. Ainsworth Pet Nutrition also produces “Rachel Ray Nutrish” and “Better Than!” dog food brands. 

The new formulations of dog food are being manufactured with no, or reduced amounts of, corn, wheat or soybeans. These ingredients are being replaced in dog food by field pea.

Most of the field peas grown in the United States are grown in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Nebraska. Yuhasz said it best when he said, “You can sit back and watch them ship the product by you or you can jump in and grow them.” And boy is he right. 

We have a huge competitive advantage here. It is a lot cheaper to haul field peas from Ashtabula County than railing them in from the Upper Midwest. Yuhasz said there is a potential for growth for field pea to grow from 3,000 to 18,000 acres.

So, can we grow them here? The answer is yes. There is always a learning curve when planting and managing a new crop, but if farmers can grow soybeans, then they can easily gear up to include field pea in their cropping rotation. 

Peas are planted early in the spring with a traditional grain drill in 7.5-inch rows and are harvested in late July with the same combine and header that we use for soybeans. The earlier harvest allows for some opportunities for farmers. 

For instance, if the harvest is early enough, a second crop of peas can be planted or winter wheat can be planted. The earlier harvest also means the fields are drier at harvest which reduces mud on the roads and field compaction.  

It also allows farmers to add lime, pick up rocks, install drainage tile, plant cover crops, and it expands the time for fall weed control in these fields.

Some of the challenges for growing peas: they prefer drier soils and farmers have to gear up to manage the disease and insect issues of field pea. This year’s summer weather was perfect for fungal issues and one variety planted locally was set back by powdery mildew. But the lesson was learned on mildew and the management of this disease will be on the radar for future years.

I am always excited to see new crops become part of our agricultural industry in Ashtabula County. Diversification has been a key to economic survival for our farmers through the years, and it will be interesting to watch the progression of this crop.

So are you are a farmer and want to learn more about field pea? If so, I have a couple of nice field guides from our counterparts in Nebraska and Minnesota. Just call the Ashtabula County Extension office at (440) 576-9008, or email me at marrison.2@osu.edu, and we will be happy to get these to you. 

Colebrook Elevator will also be sponsoring an educational workshop after this year’s fall harvest for farmers interested in growing field pea. Contact Danny Aulizia at Colebrook Elevator at (440) 855-1791 or danny@colebrookelevator.com, and he will put your name on the list to be invited to the educational meeting.

To close, I would like to share two quotes from English clergyman William Pollard, who said, “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable,” and, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” Have a good and safe day!

David Marrison is associate professor and extension educator, agriculture and natural resources, Ohio State University Extension. He can be reached at (440) 576-9008, or marrison.2@osu.edu.

Recommended for you