28 March 1997

New blueprint puts oats in a brighter light

An HGCA-funded review of ADAS and MAFF research findings will be the basis of a new pocket guide to winter oat growing. Robert Davies gauges initial reaction

DESPITE being described as "a pearl amongst natures treasure trove", oats remain a neglected crop due to historical management problems. That could change with publication of a new management blueprint being written by ADAS Rosemaund agronomist Richard Laverick.

It will be a condensed version of the comprehensive examination of trial results he has completed using £8500 of HGCA levy.

The guide will provide information on varieties, seed rates, sowing date, fertiliser recommendations, weed and disease control, growth regulators, and achieving high quality samples.

"I hope the information will be useful to both existing and new growers of a crop which has a big potential," says Mr Laverick. "An export market has developed in recent years, and there is scope for increasing human consumption and industrial usage. The crop offers advantages as a break crop and is tolerant of fairly acidic soils.

"Lower growing costs mean that returns can compare favourably with those from winter barley and other break crops. But the sort of questions asked at HGCA roadshows indicate there is a demand for an agronomy guide."

The trial work review reveals that there is greater variation in thousand grain weight between varieties and between years within a variety than with other cereals. To ensure optimum seed rate growers need some idea of thousand grain weight.

The importance of sowing date is also clear. Early September sowing can give a 0.3t/ha (2.4cwt/acre) yield advantage over October drilling and raise specific weight by 2kg/hl. But growers will have to balance these gains against a need for an autumn aphicide, increased risk of lodging, and possible higher levels of disease in early spring.

The new guide will emphasise the importance of having a clear picture of the nutrient status of the soil to be able to adjust nitrogen use to avoid lodging. It will also discuss situations, such as low N status, where there are advantages in split dressings.

Timing of plant growth regulators will be examined, especially the lack of evidence in favour of splitting full rate chlormequat application between GS30 and GS32, which can reduce grain specific weight and increase screenings.

The guide, expected to be paid for and distributed by seed supplier Semundo, will urge control of even low levels of mildew but point out that reduced rate applications can be as effective as full rates where mildew is not severe. Growers will be warned that the other main disease risk is from crown rust.

Welsh arable farmer David Williams (right) welcomes a helping hand with winter oat husbandry from ADASs Richard Laverick.