Improving crop prospects mean that oats could challenge second wheats for their place in the rotation, believe some commentators.

Lower seed, fertiliser and spray costs put winter oats ahead of second wheat in a gross margin comparison calculated at current grain prices, says Chris Green, of Senova, part of the Just Oats consortium.

“The higher yields that are now achievable with oats, together with its lower growing costs, show why the crop is enjoying a revival and looking competitive again,” he says.

The fact the millers have come up with contracts linked to the wheat price is also helping, he acknowledges, as is the consumer demand for oat-based products and the innovation the food industry is putting into the crop.

“The seed cost for second wheat is much higher because it includes the use of Latitude for the control of take-all,” explains Mr Green. “And obviously the nitrogen fertiliser costs will be greater with wheat, by about £98/ha.”

As far as varieties are concerned, there were no additions to the Recommended List for this year, says Athole Marshall, of IBERS.

“The highest-yielding variety on the list is Balado, which is short and very stiff strawed, but the most popular variety is Mascani, which has the high kernel content and specific weight that the millers want.”

Coming through the system is the promising candidate Rhapsody, which he believes will be of interest to dedicated oat growers.

Winter oats v second wheat

   Winter oats  Second wheat (feed)
Seed (£/ha) 46 81

Fertiliser (£/ha)

196.30  293.92
Sprays (£/ha) 90 180
Sundries (£/ha) 20   20 
Total variable costs (£/ha)  352.30   574.92 
Yield (t/ha)  8.2
Price a tonne   £168 £160 
Gross output £1,377.60 £1,440 
Gross margin/ha   £1,025.30   £865.08
Tonnes to cover variable costs   2.09 3.60 
Source: Just Oats. No allowance has been made for straw value