Adding oats to a crop rotation has a host of benefits – but raising oats profitably starts with choosing the right variety best suited to a farmer’s location. With no formal university-based small-grains breeding programs in Iowa, however, data on how oat varieties perform here has been hard to find.
To address this critical research gap, Practical Farmers of Iowa has been working for the past three years with Iowa State University to evaluate oat varieties as part of an effort to help farmers improve the profitability of small grains production in the state.
In 2017, Practical Farmers and Iowa State tested 15 oat varieties at three locations: the ISU Northern Research and Demonstration Farm, in Kanawha; the ISU Northeast Research and Demonstration Farm, in Nashua; and one commercial farm, operated by Wendy Johnson, near Charles City. Four of the 15 varieties were also entered into a separate research trial at the Nashua site comparing how each variety fared with and without fungicides.
Results of both trials are detailed in a new research report, “Oat Variety and Fungicide Trials 2017,” which is available to read or download on Practical Farmer’s website.
Key findings from the variety trial include:
- The top-performing varieties in terms of yield and straw were Natty and Betagene at Kanawha; Hayden and Deon at Nashua; and Saber and Reins at Charles City
- Across all three sites, Deon and Saber were among the top performers in terms of yield – but neither met the common food-grade standard test weight of 38 pounds per bushel (both averaged 35.3 pounds per bushel across sites)
- One variety, Antigo, exceeded the food-grade standard test weight at all three research sites, though it was among the lowest-yielding varieties. Reins met this standard at Kanawha only, but came close at the other two sites. (It is possible, however, for farmers to increase the test weight of their oats by cleaning the crop with a grain vacuum)
“The oat variety trials coordinated by PFI have been invaluable to us,” says Jessie VanderPoel, a grain trader with Grain Millers. “We want to buy more oats in Iowa, and we also want farmers to be successful in adding this crop to their rotation. Having solid oat variety information from the area allows us to better guide oat growers to help them be more successful.”
Research participant Wendy Johnson, who operates a diversified crop and livestock farm, says she likes using small grains as an alternative feed source for her chickens and pigs, and that she hopes to “add small grains into our rotation to help with weed suppression, and to build soil organic matter and other aspects of soil health.”
Oats were once grown extensively in Iowa. In 1950, Iowa was the nation’s leader in oat production, with nearly 7 million acres planted across the state; in 2015, oats were grown on only 55,000 acres.
The vast majority of the world’s oat crop goes to livestock feed, but historically, large quantities of food-grade oats were also grown by farmers in the Upper Midwest and sold to companies like Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids and General Mills in the Twin Cities. Those companies now source their oats primarily from Canada and Scandinavia.
Mac Ehrhardt of Albert Lea Seed House, which sells several of the varieties tested in the trial, says this research is crucial for growing quality oats under actual field conditions: “This is really useful information for farmers wondering what oat variety to plant. I hope farmers take advantage of it. Farmers looking to diversify their rotation with oats need to take variety selection seriously and choose a variety that fits the way they farm as well as the intended use.”
Small grains production is important to Practical Farmers of Iowa members. Growing a small-grains crop, like oats, is the easiest way to add diversity to a corn-soybean system. Because oats are harvested in July, farmers have time to plant a diverse cover crop mix in late summer and reap the many benefits of a longer growing season for the cover crop. Introducing a small-grains crop to a corn-soybean system helps farmers improve yields, reduce herbicide and fertilizer use, and improve soil and water quality.
Source: Practical Farmers of Iowa