Farm Progress

Oat variety trial results available for Iowa farmers

New research by Practical Farmers and ISU is filling a critical gap in small-grains knowledge.

November 23, 2017

3 Min Read
OAT VARIETY TESTS: Continuing work from previous two years, Practical Farmers of Iowa and partners conducted another round of oat variety trials in 2017. PFI screened 15 varieties at two ISU research farms and one PFI member farm.

Adding oats to a crop rotation has many 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, data on how oat varieties perform has been hard to find.

To address this research gap, Practical Farmers of Iowa has been working for the past three years with Iowa State University to evaluate oat varieties to help farmers improve the profitability of small grains.

In 2017, PFI and ISU tested 15 oat varieties at three locations: ISU Northern Research and Demonstration Farm, Kanawha; ISU Northeast Research and Demonstration Farm, Nashua; and one commercial farm, operated by Wendy Johnson, near Charles City.

Four of the 15 varieties were also entered in 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 the report, “Oat Variety and Fungicide Trials 2017.” Key findings from the Iowa variety trial:

The top 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 for 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. Reins met this standard at Kanawha only, but came close at the other two sites. It is possible 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.”

Variety trial participant Wendy Johnson, who has a diversified crop and livestock farm, likes using small grains as an alternative feed source for her chickens and pigs. She hopes to add small grains into her rotation to help with weed suppression and to build soil organic matter.

Oats more popular in 1950s
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. “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.”

Source: Practical Farmers of Iowa

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