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Field Peas

What are field peas?

Field peas are a pulse crop that is part of the legume family. The word “pulse” comes from the Latin word puls, meaning potage or thick soup. Pulses are the dry edible seeds of pod plants and are high in protein and fibre and low in fat.

The common cultivated field pea is botanically classified as Pisum sativum, white flowered.

Another type, Austrian or maple pea (Pisum sativum spp. arvense) has purple flowers and is grown on a small acreage for special markets. Field peas or “dry peas” are grown and marketed as a dry, shelled product for either human consumption (including fractionation) or livestock feed. Field pea differs from garden pea, which is marketed as a fresh or canned vegetable.

Figure 1: White Flowered Field Pea, Pisum sativum

Figure 2: Field Pea, Pisum sativum spp. arvense


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Where do peas grow?

Field peas are a cool season annual plant grown adapted to cool temperate zones such as Western Canada. Field pea is the most widely grown pulse crop in Alberta and is grown in Southern Alberta, Central Alberta, or the Peace River Region. 

In 2019, Alberta’s pulse growers grew 1,685,900 metric tonnes of field peas on 1,743,300 acres with farm cash receipts of $387 Million. Alberta dry pea exports were valued at $508 Million with China accounting for the majority of exports at $294 Million, Bangladesh at $105 Million, followed by India ($30 Million), Cuba ($20 Million), United States ($15 Million), Nepal ($10 Million), as well as Colombia, Pakistan, Taiwan, Philippines and other countries.

(Source:  Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Economics and Competitiveness Branch)

Consider growing field peas if …

  • You live in Southern Alberta, Central Alberta, or the Peace River Region.
  • You’re looking for a hardy cool-season crop that can tolerate frost.
  • You’re growing in the Black and Thin Black soil zones in Alberta (though successful production is also possible in the Dark Brown and Grey Wooded soil zones with proper management techniques).
  • You want to spread out your workload with early seeding and harvest.
  • You’re interested in marketing flexibility that includes markets for both human consumption (including fractionation) and animal feed.
  • You want to reduce your input costs (as pulses are nitrogen fixing); break disease cycles in your field; obtain a second-year yield boost in other crops following a pulse crop; improve your soil health; promote soil conversation and sustainable farming practices; and improve farm profitability.
Figure 3: Dry Field Peas



Field pea is an annual herbaceous plant with slender succulent stems 1 to 6 ft. (0.3 to 1.8 m) long, with generally green to pale green foliage. Field peas normally have a single stem, but have the ability to form tillers under certain stress conditions such as early-season frost, hail, cutworm damage or moist conditions following a mid-season drought (tillers that form later in the season seldom produce marketable seed).

Figure 4: Field Peas at the Vegetative Stage

Leaf Structures

There are two leaf structures that characterize field pea:

  • leafed types produce a leaf consisting of one to three pairs of leaflets and simple branched terminal tendrils.
  • semi-leafless types have no leaflets on the leaf axil and compound tendrils that replace leaflets (semi-leafless types usually have large stipule leaves).
    Figure 4: A Visual Guide to Key Stages in the Growth and Maturity of the Field Pea, Photo Credit:

Reproductive nodes (flower)

Reproductive (flower) nodes bear either one, two or multiple flowers on peduncles or stalks that originate from the stem axis. The flowers are highly self-pollinated (most varieties in Alberta produce two flowers). 

More determinate varieties tend to produce reproductive nodes in a shorter period which results in earlier maturity. These types can be severely affected by drought and heat stress during the reproductive period. 

The number of reproductive nodes produced on indeterminate types corresponds with the length of the flowering period, which may be prolonged by cool, wet weather.

Figure 5: Parts of plant. Morphology of pea plant with fruits, flowers, green leaves and root system

Pea pods

Pea pods are normally 2 to 3 in. (5 to 7 cm) long and contain four to nine seeds, depending on the variety and growing conditions – crop stress (such as drought, heat, disease and nutrient deficiencies) can affect pod size and seed development. 

Figure 6: Field Pea – Pea Pod

Field Pea Seed Shape & Size

Seed shape varies by cultivar from round to angular or blocky, with a smooth or dimpled seed coat (most cultivars are round or near round in shape). Seed sizes range from 150 to 280 grams per 1,000 kernels depending on variety and growing conditions.

Figure 7:  Field Pea Seed

The pea seed consists of the seed coat (testa), the seed leaves (cotyledons) and the embryo axis. The seed coat encloses and protects the cotyledons and the embryo axis (the two cotyledons protect the embryo axis and provide nutrients during establishment). The embryo axis is comprised of a rudimentary root (radicle) and a shoot (plumule).

Figure 8: Pea Seed Illustration



Adaptation Characteristics


Optimal Temperature

  • Field pea is a cool season crop that requires periodic moisture during its vegetative growth phase and its flowering period.  
  • Optimum temperatures are 23˚C daytime and 10˚C evening.
  • Flower abortion can occur at temperatures over 25˚C.

Frost & Drought Tolerance

  • Tolerant for spring frost tolerance.
  • The crop is sensitive to drought and high temperatures at the onset of flowering. These stressful conditions may result in flower blast, which reduces seed yield.


  • Alberta produces both short-vined determinate types and long-vined indeterminate pea types. 
  • Short-vined determinate type (1 to 3 in. or 2.5 to 7.5 cm long), require a shorter season, and will stop growing once they have reached a pre-determined structure. The majority of field peas grown in Alberta are of the determinate type.
  • Long-vined indeterminate pea types (internodes 4 to 8 in. or 10 to 20 cm long) require a longer season, and will continue to grow and flower until some stress factor induces maturity. 


  • There are many yellow and green pea varieties to choose from.
  • Regional variety trials are planted across Alberta every year to showcase the varieties available and how they grow in Alberta’s different environments. 
  • Yield, characteristics, and standability data are found at Pulse RVT.
  • For more information on the varieties of pulse crops in Alberta, please see Alberta Agriculture’s Varieties of Pulse Crops for Alberta.


  • There is a range of early to late varieties.
  • Field peas must be seeded early in May into soil that is beginning to warm (4 to 5˚C), with good structure and tilth, so that it has flowered and retained most of its flowers during early July, before the heat of summer begins.


  • Field pea is best suited to the Black and Thin Black soil zones. Successful production is also possible in the Dark Brown and Grey Wooded soil zones with proper management techniques.
  • Field should be well drained, level to slightly rolling.
  • Clay loam and loam soils are best suited for field pea production.
  • Soils with a pH in the range of 5.5 to 7.0.
  • Avoid soils that are salty; that are prone to water logging as they encourage seed decay and seedling rot; and sandy soils with poor water-holding capability.
  • Field peas have a relatively shallow root system.

Stages of Development

The life cycle of the pea plant has four principal stages:

  • germination and emergence
  • vegetative stage
  • reproductive stage
  • senescence (mature stage)



Figure 8: Field Pea

Field pea is one of the oldest domesticated crops, cultivated for at least 7,000 years. It has been an important grain legume crop for millennia, seeds showing domesticated characteristics dating from at least 7,000 years ago have been found in archaeological sites around what is now Turkey. Dry pea seeds have been discovered in a Swiss village that are believed to date back to the Stone Age. Archaeological evidence suggests that these peas must have been grown in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamian regions at least 5,000 years ago and in Britain as early as the 11th Century. (Chaudhry, Mat, “Green Gold: Value Added Pulses”, Quantum Media, NW, 2011).

Peas were introduced into North America by early European explorers at the end of the 15th Century. In Canada, indigenous people were growing peas in the Montréal region in 1535. Both garden and dry peas (commonly known as field peas in Canada) are grown in Canada. Garden peas are mainly produced in Ontario and Québec, whereas the majority of dry peas are produced in western Canada. Dry peas have been grown in western Canada to a limited extent since the early 20th Century. The rapid increase of dry pea production in this region started in the mid-1980s. This augmentation was driven mainly by the increased export of dry peas to the European feed pea market, and by the higher net economic return to growers from dry peas than from red spring wheat. Increased emphasis on crop diversification and crop rotation, as well as rising value-added processing such as protein or starch fractionation (the biochemical separation of pea seed components) also contributed to this boost in pea production. Since 1998 Canada has been the largest dry pea producer and exporter in the world. (The Canadian Encyclopedia)  

Special thanks to Saskatchewan Pulse Growers and Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers.