Farmer finds green benefits by growing peas to feed animals
- Credit: Charlie Davison
A west Norfolk farmer has found a new income by growing peas for livestock feed - helping his environmental footprint in the process.
Charlie Davison has farmed for 31 years in West Bilney, where milling wheat covers a large percentage of the rotation on his 620-acre farm, along with potatoes, onions and carrots.
But he experimented with forage peas last year after prolonged wet weather made it difficult to prepare a good seed bed for spring cereals.
"I found time was against me when it came to sowing spring cereals of any sort so I did a bit of research and decided to give forage peas a go," he said.
The fast-growing crop is sold locally to livestock farmers, who can use the peas and stalks as hay, or more commonly as a high-protein silage to feed cattle and sheep.
But the peas also bring other benefits to the farm.
Their deep tap roots help to break up compacted ground, while the leaves and stalks can be used as green manure to boost soil fertility.
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Their cultivation can also help break cereal disease cycles and, as a legume, they add nitrogen back into the ground, reducing the need for artificial fertiliser.
"With more and more farmers now bringing livestock – particularly sheep – onto their farms in Norfolk and other East Anglian counties, I think pea forage straw can become a major crop in the future," said Mr Davison.
"I am always looking for ways to do things that little bit better and the inclusion of the pea crop is a step in the right direction."
As the crop is sold within an eight-mile radius, it also reduces the transport costs of moving other cash crops such as root vegetables to distant production plants.
East Winch cattle breeder Sarah Juggins is one livestock owner who is already taking advantage of the locally-produced feed.
She said forage peas are hugely popular as nutritious animal feed in New Zealand and the USA.
She said: "At this time of year, being able to feed my cattle highly nutritious pea forage is really crucial to helping the animals maintain good body condition throughout the winter months.
"The fact that it is grown just a couple of miles down the road means the impact of feeding the cattle on the environment is hugely reduced, compared to buying in supplementary food from miles away."