Weak stem strength in field pea (Pisum sativum) is a major restriction to yield, seed quality and ease of harvest. Three aspects of stem strength: load at breaking point, flexion and compressed stem thickness, showed substantial genetic variation among a diverse range of six parents including modern cultivars, landrace accessions, and interspecific progeny. Diallel analysis of parents and F1 progeny was conducted using a simple additive-dominance model, which was adequate for load and compressed stem thickness. There were significant additive genetic effects for load and compressed stem thickness with no evidence of dominance or maternal effects, and also significant additive genetic effects for flexion which was subject to more complex genetic control. Valuable alleles for these stem strength traits were present in commercial cultivars and landrace types of field pea. Efficient and practical breeding for improved stem strength will involve several recurrent selection cycles with moderate selection pressure for compressed stem thickness in early generations, followed by verification of improvements in lodging resistance in subsequent field trials. Compressed stem thickness is relatively easy to measure on individual plants in the field and is closely associated with load.