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Field Pea – Inoculation


Purpose of Inoculation

One of the most important inputs for any pulse crop is inoculant. Inoculating field peas with the correct strain of rhizobium (Rhizobium leguminosarum) has the potential to fix up to 80% of nitrogen required through nitrogen fixation. Properly inoculated pea should not require any extra nitrogen fertilizer. Rhizobium leguminosarum strains will nodulate peas, faba beans, and lentils but some strains may be more effective on certain crops or certain varieties.

Rhizobium bacteria can live in the soil for a number of years. However, the most efficient nitrogen-fixing bacteria may not be among those that survive. Generally, native soil strains of Rhizobium leguminosarum are not the optimum strains. This reinforces the recommendation to inoculate each time peas are seeded. Western Canadian research indicates a significant yield response to inoculation of grain legumes in 30% to 50% of the cases. For this reason, most experienced pea producers use an inoculant on their pea crop every year.

Inoculant Formulations

Healthy Pea Nodules

Field pea inoculants come in three formulations. Much research has been done on different formulations of inoculants for use with pea. Manufacturers may package the inoculant as either a mixed strain inoculant that contains a mixture of the strains, or a single-strain inoculant which contains only one rhizobia strain. In either case the best strains are chosen based on their ability to nodulate the crop on the label. 

All inoculant formulations will perform equally well if the inoculant is properly applied and if environmental conditions are ideal. Under adverse conditions the best performing formulation should be granular, followed by peat, and then liquid.


  • Generally, inoculate your seed the day you’re seeding, but different brands or types have different storage limits and recommended application timing.
  • Some types of inoculants can also be mixed with fertilizer or pesticides. When choosing the right field pea inoculant, talk to your input supplier and read all labels carefully.

Peat Powder Inoculant

  • Applied directly to the seed with a non-toxic sticking agent, this formulation is a finely ground peat that contains over a billion rhizobia per gram.
  • Powder/peat formulations are more durable and less prone to desiccation and seed treatment damage, compared to liquid formulations. The bacteria can still be killed by desiccation so the same precautions should be taken as with liquid.
  • Some peat-based powder inoculants require the use of a sticker. Adhesion to the seed can be enhanced if the seed is slightly damp during inoculation.
  • Peat powder inoculant is one of the most common types used in Canada.

Liquid Inoculant

  • This formulation, which also contains over a billion rhizobia per gram, is applied directly to the seed, and because it comes in liquid form, a sticking agent is typically included in the fluid.
  • Liquid inoculant comes in bags that make it easy to distribute evenly onto the seed while it is being augured into a truck box or through a drill fill.
  • Liquid-based products offer convenience and better control of application rate, compared to other forms. However, they are also more susceptible to damage prior to seeding from environmental extremes and seed treatments, than other inoculant forms.
  • If treated seed is planted immediately into a moist seedbed, liquid formulations perform well.

Granular Soil Inoculant

  • Unlike peat powder or liquid inoculants, granular soil inoculant is not applied directly to the seed but, rather, with the seed in the seed row.
  • This formulation does, however, contain the same amount of rhizobia as both the powder and liquid inoculants and is gaining in popularity because of its convenience.
  • Under cold or very dry spring seedbed conditions, granular soil inoculation has shown considerable potential for producing large, stable yields of field pea and minimizing the risk of growing the crop.
  • Granular formulations are the least prone to exposure damage. They allow for precise application rates when an additional seed cart compartment is available.
  • Granular inoculants are less affected by seed-applied fungicides than other forms of inoculants.


  • Once the proper inoculant is chosen, steps should be taken to ensure maximum rhizobia survivability.
  • Rhizobium bacteria (either on the seed or in the package) die if they are exposed to stress such as high temperature, drying winds, or direct sunlight.
  • Inoculant must be stored in a cool dark place prior to use and must be used before the expiry date. Following application of the inoculant, plant into moist soil as soon as possible.
  • Inoculants are sensitive to granular fertilizer. Banding fertilizer to the side and/or below the seed is recommended. Never mix inoculant with granular fertilizer.
  • Inoculants are also sensitive to some seed-applied fungicides. Check the label of both the inoculant and seed treatment for compatibility.
  • When using a combination of fungicide and inoculant, apply the fungicide to the seed first, allow it to dry, and apply the inoculant immediately prior to seeding.
  • High available soil nitrogen levels (over 55 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare, or 49 pounds of nitrogen per acre) inhibit nitrogen fixation since the pea plant will preferentially use the soil nitrogen rather than fix nitrogen.


How do I know if the inoculant was successful?


  • The effectiveness of inoculation can be checked by examining the pulse crop at early flowering. It may take three to four weeks after seed germination before nodulation reaches a point where it can be evaluated.


  • Although peas are an excellent nitrogen fixer and the nodules can be easily seen when a plant is pulled from the ground. The best way to check for nodulation is to dig a plant and gently remove the soil from the roots by washing in a bucket of water.
  • Nodules are fragile and readily pull off if the roots are pulled out of the soil.
  • Watch:  Nodulation Scoring Video


  • Nitrogen fixation is synchronized with plant growth, supplying the crop nitrogen during rapid vegetative growth.
  • Seed applied inoculant should result in nodules forming on the primary root near the crown.
  • If the inoculant was soil applied (granular), nodules should be found on primary and secondary roots.
  • If nitrogen fixation is active, the nodules will be pink or red on the inside.
  • Lack of nodules indicates rhizobia did not infect the pulse plant.
  • Lack of a pink colour (usually green or cream coloured) indicates the rhizobia are not fixing nitrogen.
  • Nitrogen fixation declines once plants begin pod formation and seed development.


  • Some sites may show little to no response to inoculation with any formulation as these sites had previous pea crops or naturally occurring (native) rhizobia.


  • When seeding on land with no known history of field pea, it’s best to use inoculant at recommended rates. Although some rhizobia occur naturally in soils, it’s important to ensure sufficient numbers of the correct strain of highly effective rhizobia are present when the seed germinates.