Growing Oats – fulfilling the potential

Oats are an important component of many organic rotations. Practical advice from researchers, indus-try specialists and end users will help producers realise the full potential of this organic friendly crop.This session was organised by ORC
Henry Creissen (ORC): chair.

Session summary

The session was organised by Nick Fradgley and Dr Henry Creissen from the Organic Research Centre with the aim of providing practical advice for organic producers on both the varieties and suitable market for this stable yielding crop.

The first presentation was provided by Nick Fradgley (ORC) who reported the latest research findings of ORC’s Defra-funded QUOATS project. The focus of Nick’s presentation was on the performance of a number of 5 different husked oat varieties and 3 different naked oats varieties grown at ORC’s Wakelyns site over the past 4 years. The husked variety Mascani had the highest mean yield over the 4 year trial. Balado, a husked variety with high yield potential in conventional production, had the lowest yield in organic conditions. In fact there was a clear negative correlation between varieties that, according to the HGCA recommended list, perform well in conventional conditions and their performance in these organic trials. The trials also demonstrated the weed competition affects variety performance more than disease and that the ability of a variety to establish early was a more useful trait for weed competition than late canopy cover or crop height.

The second speaker was Simon Penson of Campden BRI, is the UK’s largest independent membership-based organisation that carries out research and development for the food and drinks industry. He reported that oat production in the UK has increased significantly in the UK over the past 20 years and an increase in demand has meant that the UK now has an oat deficit and that we are now oat importers. Seventy-two percent of consumption is for human or industrial use, with the majority of remaining consumption (25 %) going to use as animal feed. Oats provide a significant source of beta-glucan, which has been identified as being important for heart health by reducing cholesterol, and therefore there is great potential for marketing oats to higher value health food markets.

The session’s final speaker, Ross Dawson of GB seeds, was unable to make the session and therefore Henry Creissen stepped in to present Ross’s presentation. Ross’s talk presented the case for naked oats as a niche market for producers. The key markets for naked oats are for poultry, horse, dog and bird feeds. GB seeds offer buy-back contracts based on acreage and of the 10,000 tonnes harvested last year, 70% was sold before harvest.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Following the presentations a good discussion ensued on the problems that organic growers face as a result of not having organic focused recommended lists, which is compounded by the quick turnover of varieties from breeders making it hard for growers to select the most appropriate varieties.
  • Vicky Foster of the HGCA answered a series of questions about potential ways in which the recommended lists could be presented to help provide more information for organic producers.
  • There was some interest shown in naked oats and the concept of buy back contracts, although it was suggested that they would need to have a significant premium attached over the price of feed wheat for more widespread adoption to occur.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Nick Fradgley (ORC): Results from ORC trials: variety performance in organic conditions

Results are presented from the ORC trials as part of the QUOATS project aiming to increase the sustainability and economic attractiveness of oats as a low input crop in cereal based rotations. Data from the trials demonstrates how oats yield higher and more reliably than wheat under organic conditions and highlights the very different trends in variety performance in organic com-pared to conventional systems. Exactly what factors limiting yield over the four trial years, such as weed or disease pressure, are examined and the traits enabling some varieties to better cope with these pressures is investigated. This will go some way to addressing the lack of information available to farmers for variety selection and identify potential breeding objectives for oats in organic systems.

Simon Penson (Campden BRI): Oat quality requirements

Oats are used in a range of human food products because they deliver high nutritional value. Increasingly, oat-based ingredients and products are also being exploited to support marketing associated with heart health. This has led to a new wave of products on supermarket shelves and increasing awareness of the benefits of oat consumption in the mind of consumers.

Reliable production of high quality foods from oats requires high quality raw as supplied by the farmer. Grain quality is determined by a mixture of physical characteristics (e.g. 1000g weight), composition (e.g. moisture content) and visual appearance (e.g. absence of discolouration). These requirements have a direct impact on process performance in the oat mill, and the stability and attractiveness of the finished product. Oats are unique among cereals in that a large volume is consumed as essentially the whole kernel (groat), as in porridge for example. For this reason, visual appearance is important. When growing oats, it is vital to maintain an understanding of end-user quality requirements if the maximum value is to be secured for the crop. Having the customer’s needs in mind enables sound crop management decisions to be made.

Ross Dawson (GB Seeds): The potential for naked oats

The niche Naked Oats market has much to offer the modern organic producer yet few have adopted the crop into their system. A grain merchant’s perspective on the current markets and contracts supplied by the merchants will be discussed in this talk. Information regarding the advantages and disadvantages of current varieties and their specific agronomics will allow the grower to fully utilise this premium crop in the organic rotation. Current on-going work in the organic naked oats sector will be outlined and coupled with a view of the future markets and the potential for the organic sector.


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