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Why You Should Consider Growing Oats This Year

By Mac Ehrhardt, Co-owner

There was a time when oats were a staple of almost every Midwestern crop rotation. In 1950, there were 6.5 million acres of oats planted in Iowa. In contrast, Iowa farmers sowed fewer than 50,000 acres last year. What changed in the ag landscape to cause all those oat acres to disappear?

The first, and largest, change was economic. As the government incentivized corn and bean production, farmers were able to make more money growing those crops. Seed companies followed the profits and concentrated their efforts on the big two. And animal agriculture moved from most farmers having a few hogs and cattle to fewer, more concentrated livestock operations. As oats fell out of favor, universities ended their oat breeding programs.

With all that said, this could actually be the time for oats to make a comeback—for a number of reasons.

Seeking an oat resurgence

Why be optimistic about oats? Well, the first reason is, Americans eat a fair amount of oatmeal, granola bars and multi-grain bread. At present, most of the oats we consume are shipped into the U.S. on rail from Canada. Those oats could be produced right here in the Midwest.

Even though we can grow oats, producers still need to make money with them. The first step in making that happen is to create a regional market, and that is already taking place.

Grain Millers, perhaps the largest miller of both conventional and organic oats, has made a commitment to source the oats for their plant in St. Ansgar, Iowa, from Minnesota, the Dakotas and Iowa. They are serious about this commitment.

So why should you go to the trouble of adding oats to your rotation? The answer is the same reason farmers stopped growing them in the first place—economics.

No, you won’t make more money growing oats in one year compared to corn. But we can prove that you will make more over both three- and four-year periods by adding oats underseeded with clover or alfalfa to your corn and bean rotation than you will rotating corn and beans alone.

Research by Dr. Matt Liebman, the Henry A. Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, shows the bottom-line benefits. View his research at bit.ly/1XSs30k.

At Albert Lea Seed, we’re working with Practical Farmers of Iowa and others to help you grow the best quality oats possible. Please give us a call or stop by the store, and let’s talk oats.

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