Oats as an alternative crop

Diversity may be the key when considering small grain


There is an early fall feeling in the air, and the corn and soybeans fields are maturing. We see these fields everywhere. As a matter of fact, the country landscape is mostly fields of corn and soybeans. Alternately, a golden hue was amongst the green just weeks ago. These acres were possibly the small grain alternative crops. One in particular is oats which has been seen more this year. How does the oats alternative crop work for area farmers, and how do they use this crop?

Talking with Gary Osvog, an area farmer, oats have been a part of his farming plan for many years. Part of his rotation of crops, Gary has tried to farm with oats approximately thirds with corn and soybeans. He likes the diversity of the crop, whether the crop is hayed or combined. Oats break up the harvest; combining in the later summer verses fall.

“I would rather be combining in 80-degree weather verses late fall and risks of snow,” said Osvog.

Wet springs affect the ability to get acres in for this small grain crop which in turn affects his rotation. Input costs are also less compared to other crops, and there is the ability to sell the straw off the field as well.

“There is also the advantage of the rotation of small grains,” remarked Ron Kaufman, an area farmer. “Oats in particular are able to solubilize or free up the phosphorus in the ground to benefit the soil.”

The breakdown of the more fibrous root system of the plant can also make the ground more mellow. Different plant species can enhance different sets of organisms which is beneficial for the soil. Cover crops after the harvest of the crop also keeps the soil biology active. Rotation can break up the weed cycle and the insect cycle common with crops without a rotation factor.

Chemical control is also affected as use of different chemicals for this small grain crop. Break up of chemical modes of action allows for less weed tolerance. Using a herbicide such as 2-4D with small grain crops can lower the weed resistance of chemicals such as roundup on the corn and soybean crops.

With a little more of an uptick in acres, Prairie Ag manager Chad Dylla has seen more oats this year than in the last 3-4 years. This year’s decent spring weather and prices being comparable to corn at the time of planting opened up the option for area farmers to consider a small grain.

Diversity may be the key. Either way, area farmers seemed to be keeping that option open depending on what the farming year hands them.


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