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Green Peas Please

The results of a quest for a pea that lives up to the title ' pea green' could see a return to high value market opportunities for New Zealand pea growers.

The greener pea is much in demand by Asian markets, particularly the Japanese, who munch through thousands of tonnes of snackfood peas annually.

Plant Research NZ (formerly NZ Plant Breeding), headed by Canterbury researcher Adrian Russell, has just completed a two-stage research project on behalf of three mid-Canterbury seed companies. The outcome, yet to be commercialised, could mean a turnaround for New Zealand's diminishing presence in the Japanese market.

"The research project covered a whole plant improvement programme for peas, looking for ways to meet the high specifications of the Japanese market. We are competing against Canadian and US growers who can increasingly meet their specifications accurately " says Mr Russell.

The market wanted a greener pea, which would hold its colour when dried and then extruded as snack food. A resistance to powdery mildew and other diseases would also help growers achieve good cropping levels and reduce the use of fungicides.

The research was helped with a $27,000 grant from Technology New Zealand's Grants for Private Sector Research and Development scheme (GPSRD), part of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

According to Mr Russell, Technology New Zealand's funding allowed the three companies to carry out co-operative research under the Plant Research NZ umbrella, to reach a common goal.

"We've identified that there are genes within peas that help them to retain a very green colour, so we are now breeding to get that specific outcome," he says. "A very wet summer in Canterbury has been devastating for commercial pea crops but it has helped to identify pea germplasm with excellent seed colour and resistance to several diseases."

Results from the plant improvement programme will be available to all three seed companies, and Mr Russell says that it will be up to five years before the results of the pea project are commercialised.

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