Vining pea growers reap largest crop since 2011

UK vining pea growers produced their largest crop since 2011 this year, the inaugural UK Vining Pea Conference heard on 11 November.

Peas: more than 149,000 tonnes harvested this year - image: News Oresund
Peas: more than 149,000 tonnes harvested this year - image: News Oresund

Just over 149,000 tonnes were harvested, with more than 96 per cent going to frozen, the rest being canned and more than eight per cent of the drilled area was passed or lost. While the UK continues to be a net importer of frozen peas, the volume imported declined in the year to June and the overall consumption trend is slightly upward since the start of the century. But British Growers Association figures show little progress in yield per hectare of all peas since the 1990s.

Chairman Jack Ward said: "Yields and quality have been good despite a very hot July and most growers are where they expected to be. There isn't much promotion in supermarkets - it's a staple that keeps selling. There has been an increase in imports so far this season helped by the strong pound. Meanwhile, yields have been quite static across time and increasing them is the biggest challenge. The more peas we can grow, the more profitable the industry."

To that end, British Growers is developing a web-based soil management tool in collaboration with Cranfield University that will anonymously analyse growers' data on soil conditions, varieties and yields, he said. "It will allow us to link common factors that lead to declining yield. If you can provide data, in any form, we will turn it into a very useful tool for the whole vegetable sector."

Earlier this year British Growers also took on a new PR company, Hatch Communications, to "freshen up" its EUand industry-funded Yes Peas! Campaign. "If we want to grow and sell more peas, we must persuade people to buy more," said Ward.

Addressing the conference, Hatch owner Jason Madeley said: "We want to change the perception of peas from being an accompaniment to being an ingredient - one that offers value for money, nutrition and provenance."

More than 100 recipes are now on the website, which has been optimised for mobile devices, while "a lot of work" has been done on social media over the past six months to "make peas part of the conversation", he added, leading to a 20 per cent increase in campaign followers. "You create a band of advocates who then do the promotion for you," he explained.

Hatch account manager Helen Simpson added: "Peas miss out on seasonality but we have had journalists out to see the harvest," leading to coverage on Channel 4's Food Unwrapped, among others. The campaign's "Queen Pea", TV chef Rachel Green, said peas "are in my blood" because her parents were farmers and "appeal to all of society - everyone has a bag in their freezer".

One grower asked: "Should the campaign focus on British peas?" Another said: "It's British growers funding it but I don't see any Union Jacks." Simpson said: "We raise awareness of peas' role in the rural economy and that the UK is 90 per cent self-sufficient in peas."

Fen Peas managing director, former PGRO chairman and current board member Stephen Francis, said: "We will get European peas in the supermarkets until there is a horsemeat scandal in European peas or the rate of the pound to the euro changes. Then we can worry about 'British'."

Jack Ward added: "The berry industry has put a lot of money into promotion and they take the view that if you are eating more berries, you are eating more British berries."

Overall the frozen vegetable market has grown from £360m to £480m in seven years, which "is pretty good", British Frozen Food Federation chief executive Brian Young told the conference. But revenue from frozen peas, which makes up around three-tenths of that market, has slipped back 3.5 per cent in the past year. "Petits pois have fared relatively better, mushy peas worse," he said. "But no category is immune."

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