Grow oats that are good for buyers and good for your bottom line

Steps to keep you on track

The quality of your oat crop goes a long way to determining the price you receive for it. The steps you take to produce top quality oats begin long before you roll into the field and continue long after you pick up the last of the swaths. Following best practices at each step of the way will ultimately be good for your bottom line.

Before seeding

Inform yourself about the varieties favoured by buyers. Most merchants prefer Camden and Ruffian over Morgan. 

Seeding date and seeding rate can have a huge influence on how well your oat crop performs. Go into the field early, early, early if you can. A higher seeding rate targeting at least 25 plants per square foot will grow nice and thick, which will help prevent tillering.

Fertility

Oats are scavengers and can get more out of the soil than most crops. For example, to produce 100 bu/ac you typically need 60 lbs of nitrogen. That’s less than half what wheat requires, and that’s a key distinction because with too much N, lodging can become an issue, along with bushel weight and kernel plumpness. Too little N and you sacrifice yield.

Ultimately, a soil test will tell you what you’re dealing with. Pay close attention to sulphur levels and manganese, as deficiency can be an issue in oats, especially in high pH soils.

In-season

There are limited options for effective weed control in an oat crop. As a result it’s imperative that you start with a clean field. You have two basic options for pre-seed burndown: Express® SG with glyphosate; or PrePass™ Flex with glyphosate.

I also recommend you avoid following a cereal crop with oats, as there is zero tolerance for barley or rye contamination. It’s the same for canola, as canola seed in your oat deliveries will mean discounts at the elevator. That’s why I would only put oats in after peas or legumes.

Oats don’t typically experience high disease pressure, but crown rust has been a challenge in some years. The best varieties are resistant to crown rust.

Pre-harvest

If you want to desiccate your oat crop to prepare for harvest, there’s only one way to put it: Do not use glyphosate. While it is indicated on the label, most buyers are quickly moving away from accepting oats that have had pre-harvest glyphosate applied. “Glyphosate-free is the future,” says Eric Vielfaure, Cargill’s feed grains merchandising leader.

That means swathing is your only option to dry down your oat crop, and it brings with it a set of its own challenges, because oats are prone to sprouting and staining in the swath.

I can tell you that you need a minimum 40 pound test weight. So swath before your crop reaches 35% moisture.

Harvest

Here’s where you need to look back to go forward successfully. A high quality, abundant harvest depends on getting the crop into the ground as early as possible, and achieving even maturity with minimal tillering.

Once you’re in the field picking up your oats, slow down the combine cylinder to less than 900 rpm to reduce damage to the oat hulls. Then dry the grain to 13% moisture for long-term storage, because oats are prone to heating in the bin and greens make it worse.

If you’re facing a production challenge in your oat crop, contact your local Cargill agronomist for more information.

Simon North

This British ex-pat specializes in Canadian in-crop chemistry, herbicides and canola production. Simon joined Cargill in 2014 after managing a large corporate farm in Saskatchewan. Prior to that, he worked for B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture. Simon specializes in in-crop chemistry, herbicides and canola production. “Canola needs the most attention; there is always something to do with it,” says Simon. “It’s the most expensive to grow, but we can also get the most output from it.” Simon has been following canola breeding and innovation for many years. He first fell in love with agriculture when working on a farm in the U.K. following high school. There, and while completing his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree at Harper Adams University near Birmingham, he learned about oilseed rape production. “It’s interesting to see how it’s evolved and what’s in the pipeline.“

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