We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of green pea samples come through our office over the years. They’re glanced at and then shipped off to our current buyers of choice to see if they make the grade for human consumption. The most prominent area of concern from a producer’s point of view is, “What’s the bleach count?” This question resulted in a surprising answer I didn’t fully realize until recently.
To obtain an accurate bleach count on green field peas, it’s not as simple as counting out 100 grams, then using your best judgment to pull aside ones which appear faded in colour. There’s something else.
According to the Canadian Grain Commission’s “Grain Grading Manual,” here are some official points to consider:
1. Green peas are considered bleached if one-eighth or more of the surface of the cotyledon is bleached to a distinct yellow colour which is in marked contrast to its natural colour.
2. The grader must “examine a representative portion of the cleaned sample for any distinctly bleached or suspect bleached green peas.”
3. The grader must “remove the seed coat from suspect seeds to determine the size of the bleached area on the cotyledons.”
The CGC guide has many grading factors applied to each grade but, for the discussion of bleaching purposes only, the following is stated:
No. 1 Canada: good natural colour, 2.0 per cent bleached
No. 2 Canada: fair colour, 3.0 per cent bleached
No. 3 Canada: off-colour, 5.0 per cent bleached What I wasn’t aware of (believe me, unless you’re an official grain grader, reading and comprehending this type of manual is not an exciting endeavour) was point number three above. An image popped into my head of a man sitting at a long table, surrounded by green pea samples, trying to scrape off the seed coat from a tiny, tiny pea with some sort of tweezers. That can’t be what happens, can it?
Well, the image is very close to being true. I spoke with Chris Chivilo, owner of W. A. Grain & Pulse Solutions. Mr. Chivilo has seen his fair share of green field peas over the years and now exports many containers and rail cars of this popular product every year.
Chris uses a pocket knife. First, he picks out the obviously bleached peas and they’re placed into the bleached pile. Kernels that have a bleached spot or are discoloured are set aside in a different pile. “Then, yes,” he says, smiling, “I use my pocket knife and peel the skins off, one pea at a time. If the seed coat is bleached underneath, the kernel goes into the bleached pile. Otherwise it goes into the non-bleached, good pea pile.”
“If there are a lot of borderline peas,” Chivilo added, “I’ll ship the sample to SGS to ensure I’m grading properly. Both SGS and the CGC peel the kernels to ensure whether or not they are bleached.”
THE BEST VARIETIES
Mr. Chivilo sees many, many pea samples and puts them to the test every day. I asked him which were his most preferred varieties — from a marketing point of view. His observations are:
“CDC Patrick has the best bleach tolerance I’ve seen but seed is in short supply.”
“CDC Striker is the nicest, most consistent looking pea I’ve ever seen but is not powdery mildew resistant.”
“SW Cooper is the most widespread variety in Alberta and actually my least favourite because it is horrible for bleaching. It’s the most difficult variety to get a low bleach count with.”
“Nitouche, year in and year out, is consistent for low bleach count.”
“SW Parade is also good for low bleach but it is a small seed variety, which some buyers don’t like.”
“Espace and Garde are becoming more accepted. Additional buyers are coming into the market, which means more stable demand as long as acres don’t go crazy. These dimply varieties are most popular for canning and snack foods. For canning, when immersed in liquid, the peas plump out and appear round.”
Green pea prices have been quite flat, in the $7 per bushel range at the bin. My thoughts are we’re going to be limited on the best quality peas this year, with more in the 10 per cent or more bleached and very few under five per cent bleached. Pea growers I’ve spoken with have set their sights on $8 per bushel at the bin. It’s not an impossible number, but we still have a ways to go. Perhaps we’ll see action in January.
Shelley Wetmore is owner of Market Master, a feedgrain brokerage and consulting service based in Edmonton. You can reach her toll free at 1-800-440-8390 or visit www.grainwatchdog.com