Austrian winter peas as a cover crop


By Ryan Flaming, County Extension Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources

Austrian winter peas have a growth pattern very similar to that of winter wheat. It is established in the fall, overwinters, and makes some additional spring growth. As a cover crop, it is then terminated sometime in the spring prior to planting of a summer row crop.

There are several potential benefits of planting Austrian winter peas as a cover crop:
•    As a legume, it provides supplemental nitrogen to the soil
•    Reduced erosion potential
•    Captures left-over nitrogen from the previous crop
•    Provides habitat for soil-improving microorganisms

However, cover crops can also use up soil moisture that would otherwise be available to the cash crop, potentially reducing yields. It also adds an extra expense to the cropping operation. A no-till research project was conducted from 1996 to 2008 by Bill Heer, former agronomist-in-charge at the South Central Kansas Experiment Field near Hutchinson, to evaluate the effects of winter peas and their ability to supply nitrogen to the succeeding grain sorghum crop.

Within a no-till wheat-grain sorghum rotation, winter peas were planted in the fall after wheat harvest. Half the plots were not planted to the cover crop. Where winter peas were planted, they were chemically terminated at two different times – April and May. The plots, both where the cover crop had been grown and without a cover crop, were then fertilized with nitrogen broadcast at the rates of 0, 30, 60, and 90 pounds per acre. The plots were then planted to grain sorghum. Phosphate was applied at the rate of 40 lbs/acre in the row when planting grain sorghum and wheat. Winter peas were planted at the rate of 40 lbs/acre in 10-inch rows with a double-disc drill.

Grain Cover crop treatment    Cover crop termination date    N rate lbs/acre      5 yr average yield
N/A                                    0        62.0
30        79.1
60        84.2
90        98.2
Average:    80.9
Winter Peas            April
0        84.9
30        90.8
60        92.5
90        85.2
Average:    88.4

Winter Peas            May                    0        84.3
30        89.7
60        92.2
90        95.0
Average:    90.3


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