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Specter seed (inset) and plants
Seeds and early-spring plants of 'Specter' winter feed peas.
(Images courtesy ARS Grain Legume Genetics and Physiology Research Unit.)

New, Winter-Hardy Pea Variety Now Available

By Jan Suszkiw
May 27, 2005

A new, winter-hardy pea variety called Specter is being tested by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists for release as a high-protein livestock feed.

ARS scientists Kevin McPhee and Fred Muehlbauer developed Specter to provide Pacific Northwest growers with a legume crop that tolerates harsh winter conditions and enables growers to avoid the springtime challenges of starting plants in cold, wet soils. McPhee and Muehlbauer are based at the ARS Grain Legume Genetics Physiology Research Unit in Pullman, Wash.

Using direct-seeding methods, growers can plant Specter in late September to early October--typically in the midst of standing wheat stubble serving as a natural windbreak--and expect a sizeable yield the following July, according to the scientists.

Most peas grown in the Pacific Northwest are spring varieties sold for human consumption, a market that generated nearly $33 million in 2004. But field trials indicate Specter's winter hardiness can mean a 40 to 50 percent seed-yield increase. Specter will be released for livestock rather than human consumption because of its small seed size and faint mottling. Specter also has potential as a so-called green manure that can enrich the soil by transforming nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form that can help nourish plants.

Specter's winter hardiness comes from the breeding line D258-1-2 and the Austrian Winter pea variety "Fenn." Both were crossed with other pea germplasm sources by Muehlbauer starting in 1992. The "top pick" of a sixth generation of offspring plants, Specter is the first winter-hardy pea to lack seed pigmentation, according to McPhee.

Along with university cooperators, the ARS researchers field tested the new variety in Washington State, northern Idaho, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. Since there were no other nonpigmented winter varieties to use as checks, the researchers compared Specter's seed yields to spring-sown peas. Specter's yield was typically 40 percent higher than the spring peas' average of 1,852 pounds per acre.

Through a cooperative agreement, the Washington State Crop Improvement Association will handle seed requests following Specter's registration in the journal Crop Science. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.