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1.Choose the Right Site
Oats are a useful low input cereal break crop, often grown in the second cereal slot and on lighter land sites, where they perform very well. They have a role in reducing soil-borne diseases, such as take-all, and offer scope to reduce the environmental footprint of the farm they are being grown on.
Selecting suitable fields for oats is important. Grass weed management in the crop remains a challenge, as there are very few effective herbicides available for this purpose. As a result, fields with significant black-grass, ryegrass, brome or wild oat populations should be avoided, to prevent seed return and problems in the following crops.
Where there is a known weed problem, every effort should be made to reduce grass weed populations by cultural control methods, such as the use of stale seedbeds prior to drilling. Rotational ploughing ahead of oats should also be considered.
2.Select the Right Variety
Huge progress has been made in the breeding of new oat varieties, with the latest additions offering higher yields and good milling quality, together with better agronomic characteristics.
Much of this work has been carried out at IBERS at Aberystwyth University. The oat breeding team has been responsible for the development of 30 new varieties since 2001, including those with recognised health and nutritional properties, as well as some with specific characters for specialist high value markets.
The AHDB Recommended List currently has seven husked winter oat varieties and four naked oat varieties on it, along with nine spring oat varieties. Due to miller demand, the most popular winter variety is Mascani. Although more recent additions offer slightly higher yields, Mascani has the high kernel content and specific weight desired by the millers, as well as some of the best disease resistance.
Griffin is new for this year. With a yield of 106, it offers high output, milling quality and sound agronomics in an attractive package for oat growers.
3.Grow for the Market
There is increasing demand for milling oats. Consumer appetite for the healthy, nutritious products that contain oats continues to rise, helped by innovative product development.
Certain grain quality specifications are expected by the millers. A specific weight of above 50kg/hl is key, along with a kernel content of 75-78% of grain weight.
A further influence is the level of screenings and a specification of no more than 6% through a 2mm screen is the usual requirement. Otherwise, a moisture content of between 12 and 15% and no more than 2% of admix are essential quality checks. Quality oats should also be free from odours and taints, with minimal staining.
Millers rarely request specific varieties, but it is always worth checking for any preferences. Some have a requirement for oats which have been grown without the use of growth regulators, while others need organic oats.
4.Check Sowing Date
Oats have a wide autumn drilling window, ranging from mid-September right through until November.
In practice, they are usually drilled in the first half of October, after oilseed rape and wheat drilling has been completed. The optimum drilling date is from mid-September to mid-October.
There is evidence to suggest that crops drilled in mid-September achieve the highest yields. This must be balanced with an increased risk of disease, especially mildew, grass weed infestation and the possibility that virus-transmitting aphids will still be active. Thicker, earlier drilled crops also present a greater lodging risk.
However, getting the crop established earlier means that it is less susceptible to frost lift and winter kill. Well established crops with good root systems are also less likely to suffer from transient nutrient deficiencies and very dry springs.
5.Adjust Seed Rate
Sowing date, soil type and seedbed quality must to be taken into consideration when deciding on seed rates. Like wheat, oats have good tiller production ability, so can compensate for lower plant populations. Where later sowing is taking place, expected emergence figures of 50-70% should be used to calculate seed rates.
Setting the crop up with an optimum population reduces lodging risk far more than any PGR use in the spring. Optimum seed rates range from 300-350 seeds/m² for husked varieties – oats are less susceptible to slug damage than other cereals, so plant loss is rare. The aim is to establish around 250 plants/m².
Where grass weeds are a problem, seed rates should not be reduced.
6.Apply Enough Nitrogen
New nitrogen recommendations for winter oats can be found in the updated RB209 fertiliser guidelines from AHDB http://www.ahdb.org.uk/projects/RB209.aspx
The latest advice suggests increasing nitrogen rates by 40kg/ha, taking the total amount applied up from 140kg/ha to 180kg/ha.
This guidance reflects the introduction of shorter, higher yielding varieties with good lodging resistance, which have responded well to nitrogen rates of up to 200kg/ha in trials. More work is being carried out to see if nitrogen recommendations need further fine-tuning.
Two splits are needed at these higher rates, with 40kg/ha going on in late February/early March and the remainder being applied just before stem extension.
As with other crops, all nitrogen decisions should consider soil nitrogen supply, previous organic inputs and inherent soil fertility.
Senova's 6 Top Tips for Growing Oats