One unexpected surprise of the 2001 growing season was the price of oats, which was considerably higher than it had been in recent years, especially when compared to prices of other crops with which it competes. This has renewed some interest in the crop in Illinois for 2002. As a minor producer of oats--Illinois in 2001 had only about 2 percent of the oat acres in the United States--what we do in Illinois will not affect the "oat world" very much. But Illinois has one of the highest yields among oat-producing states, with 80 bu/acre in 2001 versus 61 bu/acre for the U.S. oat yield. On the other hand, even at $2.00 per bushel, which some producers received in 2001, and yield expectations under good conditions of about 100 bu/acre, the crop usually does not compete well with corn or soybean in terms of gross income, at least on the more productive soils.|
About 1/3 of the Illinois oat acres--20,000 of 60,000 planted acres in 2001--is not harvested for grain, but is rather used as a setaside seeding or as a companion crop for forage seeding. The oats harvested for grain in warmer states such as Illinois tend not to have the high test weights (35 pounds per bushel or higher) desired by many horse owners. From a nutritional standpoint, groat percentage (dehulled weight as a percentage of total weight) and nutritional content of the groat are more important than test weight, and are often unrelated to test weight. Most commercial animal producers recognize this, and will use oats in feed for its fiber and good nutritional content. Oatmeal and oat flour producers also have little difficulty using oats produced in the Corn Belt. But pleasure horse owners often will pay a premium for oats, often imported from cooler climates such as Sweden or Canada, based on its "heavy kernels" and appearance.
Producers planning to produce oats in Illinois in 2002 should choose newer varieties with much-improved yield capability. The successful oat breeding program of Dr. Fred Kolb at the University of Illinois has given us varieties such as Blaze, Chaps, and Rodeo, of which Chaps has the best standability, but Blaze tends to have slightly higher yields. The variety Classic, developed at Purdue University, also has a good yield record. Be sure to get good seed from an established source. In general, oats tend to yield more as one moves north in Illinois, but yields in Central Illinois can be good if the weather does not turn hot and dry too soon.
For best yield potential, oats should be planted early--from mid-March to mid-April. For high yields, the crop should probably not be planted after mid-April in Central Illinois or after May 1 in Northern Illinois. The crop establishes well under tough conditions--the old saying is that oats can be "mudded in"--and some producers do little or no soil preparation before planting. The crop is commonly seeded using 2 to 3 bushels of seed per acre, with more if seeding late or in very tough conditions. Oats are very sensitive to many herbicides, so be careful with carryover. About 50 to 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre will usually produce good yields, but under very good conditions the crop might respond up to 70 or 80 pounds N per acre. Oats seldom needs insect- or disease-control measures. Harvest usually occurs about mid-July, and hot, dry conditions or excessively wet conditions during June can reduce yields severely.--Emerson Nafziger