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University of Minnesota Extension

Organic oat production

Quick facts

  • Oat is a viable cash crop that also helps manage the weed seed bank.
  • Grain quality is as important as yield.
  • Plant certified seed.
  • Follow nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium application rate recommendations.
  • Underseeding legumes with oat is a good way to incorporate green manure into an organic rotation.

Why should you consider oats in organic production?

Organic agriculture is the practice of producing food, for human and/or animal consumption where most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are replaced with inputs that are permissible under the USDA guidelines for organic production and/or independent organic certification agencies. For example, urea and anhydrous ammonia are replaced with animal manure and manure composts.

Currently there are over 25,000 certified organic farmers and organic businesses in the US that generate well over $35 billion dollars in retail (USDA, 2012). In Minnesota, the Department of Agriculture (MDA) helps famers transition into or expand organic production.


Field selection and fertility management

Oat performs better when grown in soils that ranging from moderately well-drained to well-drained and with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 7.0. After selecting the area to be planted to oat, soil samples should be collected and sent out to lab analysis to determine the nutrient needs for the oat crop.


Variety selection

Grain yield and quality

While grain yield is an important criterion in variety selection, grain quality is as important as grain yield if the harvested grain is to be marketed.  Oat color is an important consideration and it is advisable to talk to potential buyers whether they prefer yellow or white oats.

The second quality factor is test weight and although varieties differ some for test weight, the most important step to maintain test weight is select a variety that matures early enough to escape heat stress during grainfill. 

Crown rust resistance

Another selection criterion for variety selection is the level of resistance of the variety to crown rust (Puccinia coronate Corda var. avenae W.P. Fraser Ledingham). Crown rust is the most widespread and damaging disease of oat. Epidemics of crown rust are common in the Upper Midwest, including Minnesota, in part because the alternate host common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica L.) is commonly found in woodlands and windbreaks. Only select varieties with the best resistance ratings to crown rust to avoid total crop failures. Consult the field crop trials, published annually by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, for resistance ratings. 

Use certified seed

Only use seed from registered and certified seed classes of known varieties. Certified seed must be sold with an accompanying  blue tag that lists the variety name germination, weed seed, and inert matter percentage; seed lot number; and source of production.  Avoid seed sold as VNS (variety not stated) because the seed could be a varietal mixture, an unknown variety, old seed that did not sell well, or a disease-susceptible variety.

Seeding dates and rates

Oat should be planted as early as possible to maximize yield and test weight.  Grain yields decrease an estimated percent per day when planting past the optimum planting dates as the odds of heat stress later in the growing season will increase.  Unlike corn and soybean where organic producers often use delayed planting as a strategy for weed management, organic small grains should be at the same time in early spring as conventional small grains.


Legume companion crops

Oat can be underseeded with red clover or alfalfa.  Red clover tends to be less competitive with oat and is more easily terminated, while alfalfa can be used as an acceptable alternative. Red clover can be underseeded at six to ten pounds per acre, while alfalfa can be underseeded at eight to ten pounds per acre. Underseeding these legumes is an excellent, low-risk way to incorporate green manures into an organic crop rotation.

Organic oat research at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC)

The SWROC at Lamberton, MN has been conducting replicated field trials on certified organic ground since 2014 to provide Minnesota organic growers with data to maximize crop profitability and production of organic oat.

  • Previous years’ crop was soybean in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
  • The nutrient sources used in this research were beef manure and beef manure compost.
    • Each source of nutrient was applied at 0, 45, 90, and 135 lbs N/Ac and replicated four times.
    • The treatments were broadcast and then incorporated soon after application to assure no N would volatilize prior to incorporation.
  • This study also investigated varieties with different maturity and different seeding rates:
    • In 2014, the varieties tested were ‘Shelby’ (medium season), ‘Tack’ (early season), and ‘Hi-Fi’ (late season).
    • In 2015 the varieties tested were ‘Shelby’, ‘Tack’, and ‘Deon’ (late season).
    • In 2016 the varieties tested were ‘Shelby’, ‘Deon’, and ‘Saber’ (early season).

Paulo Pagliari, Extension nutrient management specialist and Jochum Wiersma, Extension small grains specialist

Reviewed in 2018

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