Oat variety research by Practical Farmers and ISU offers data to farmers who want to grow small grains

For Release: March 4, 2016

AMES, Iowa — The time to plant oats is rapidly approaching – but as with corn and soybeans, choosing the right variety is critical for success. The right oat variety can improve yields, test weight and resistance to diseases. Practical Farmers of Iowa has been working with Iowa State University to evaluate oat varieties as part of an effort to improve the profitability of small grains production in the state.

In 2015, Practical Farmers and Iowa State tested 16 oat varieties at both the ISU Northern Research and Demonstration Farm, in Kanawha, and the ISU Northeast Research and Demonstration Farm, in Nashua, and assessed each for yield, test weight and disease susceptibility. Practical Farmers also interviewed scientists from milling companies to find out the oat-quality criteria they use when sourcing oats for rolled oats and oat flour, and used that information as a baseline to compare how oats in the variety trial performed.

At the ISU Northeast Research and Demonstration Farm, Practical Farmers conducted a separate research trial looking at four of the 16 varieties to see how they fared with and without fungicides. Results of both trials are in a new research report, “Oat Variety and Fungicide Trial,” which is available to read or download at practicalfarmers.org/farmer-knowledge/research-reports/2015/oat-variety-and-fungicide-trials.

At both research locations, the varieties Betagene, Deon, Badger and Natty were among the top performers in terms of yield. These varieties also proved more resistant to crown rust, the most common disease of oats in Iowa. On the milling quality side, the varieties Badger, Betagene, GM423, Goliath and Natty met all the quality specifications – which include characteristics such as test weight, groat and thin oats percentages, and concentrations of fat and beta glucan – with the exception of test weight. With proper management, however, farmers growing these varieties could increase test weight to meet the processors’ requirements.

Dave Hiler farms near Rockwell City and is considering growing oats this year. He says that having data on which varieties performed well – and knowing those varieties were independently tested – is crucial to growing profitable crops, especially for those new to the crop. “I’ve never grown oats before, and it’s important for me to know what varieties did well locally,” Dave says. He hopes the benefits of diversity will help his farm operation. “We’ve been having some disease issues in a couple of our bean fields, and hope oats can help break up that rotation.”

Oats were once grown extensively in Iowa. In 1950, Iowa led the nation in oat production, with nearly 7 million acres planted across the state. In 2015, oats were grown on only 55,000 acres in the state. 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.

Tom Rabaey, crop scientist with General Mills, says the company wants to expand its sourcing areas, and variety testing is an important part of that process. “These oat variety trials give us a chance to see how quality milling varieties perform in Iowa.” He adds that variety trials are also valuable for farmers by revealing which oat varieties meet milling standards – knowledge that will allow farmers to diversity while expanding their market opportunities.

Mac Ehrhardt of Albert Lea Seedhouse, which sells several of the varieties tested in the trial, says this work is crucial for growing quality oats under actual field conditions. “Without regional data on yield, lodging, disease tolerance, test weight, height and other agronomic characteristics, how can farmers have any idea what to plant?”

Mac says that farmers interested in planting oats still have time to order seeds: “We have lots of oats. We will sell out of some varieties, but I do not expect to sell out of certified oat seed this spring. Farmers wishing to pick up their own seed should call ahead to make sure the variety is in stock. For those wishing to have seed delivered, in-stock seed can usually get to their farm in three to four working days. For more information, visit allseed.com.”

Small grains production is important to Practical Farmers of Iowa members. Growing a small grains crop, like oats, is the quickest 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 enables farmers to improve yields, reduce herbicide and fertilizer use, and improve soil and water quality.

Funding for the oat variety trial comes in part from Albert Lea Seedhouse, General Mills, Grain Millers and the Sustainable Food Lab. To learn more, visit practicalfarmers.org/small-grains.

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Practical Farmers of Iowa strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Our values include: welcoming everyone; creativity, collaboration and community; viable farms now and for future generations; and stewardship and ecology. Founded in 1985, farmers in our network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. To learn more, visit https://www.practicalfarmers.org.


Nick Ohde | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | nick@practicalfarmers.org

Tamsyn Jones | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | tamsyn@practicalfarmers.org