Why more growers are opting for key early spring oat variety

A spring oat variety is finding favour with Scottish growers as well as those in the South because of its high disease resistance and strong yield potential.

Spring oats have the benefit of loosening up rotations, helping to limit the build-up of disease, but variety choice is especially important in the North. 

Early ripening is a key characteristic in wetter climates and that’s why Merlin oats are performing well for growers in the far North. The variety also offers good standing, high disease resistance and low screenings.

See also: Beans and oats bicrop helps eliminate fertiliser on Cambs farm

In the north of Scotland, Ewan Mackenzie from W&A Geddes reports that Merlin now accounts for two-thirds of the oat cultivation in the Caithness region, and he believes that will grow further in the coming years.

“We had 10 farmers growing about 809ha of Merlin in 2023, and we saw the best yields that I can remember,” says Ewan.

Ewan supplies most of the oats grown in the region to Hamlyns of Scotland, a subsidiary of Morning Foods.

“The quality was excellent, with bushel weights at a minimum of 56kg/hl and a maximum of 61.8kg/hl.

“Yields averaged over 7t/ha dried. We had a good bold sample with Merlin, it has good disease resistance, and it had fewer screenings than other varieties.”

He adds that growers in the north of Scotland look for good standing and an early harvest, and the variety has these attributes.

“Going forward it looks to be the variety we will be using.”

Berkshire and Hampshire

Further south, Berkshire arable farmer Ed Ryder took his first Merlin harvest in 2023.

“We wanted an alternative spring cropping option to wheat, and Merlin yielded at about 5-6t/ha on a seed contract to Cope Seeds and Grain,” says Ed.

“Some went for milling and the rest for seed, and although the yields suffered with the wet weather, the low inputs meant there was a good margin.” 

In Hampshire, Richard Monk has been growing the variety for four years.

“The 2023 harvest was our fourth year of growing Merlin, and we grew 70ha in total.

“It has done well, despite a difficult spring growing season. The quality was good, and yields ranged from 6.8-8.3 t/ha,” he says.

Cope Seeds and Grain’s Gemma Clarke points to its early variety (-1), competitive lodging score of 7, and a high rating of 8 for mildew.

“Merlin has low screenings, which is a real bonus to the mills, and a specific weight above Delfin, Aspen and Conway.

“It’s this mix of low screenings, good specific weight and kernel content that is generating interest from the millers,” she adds.

However, the one thing that growers will need to be aware of is its crown rust score, as the limited data suggests a 3 rating. This is the lowest on the 2023 Recommended List.

Top three yielding spring oat varieties on the Recommended List





Treated yield (%)




Specific weight (kg/hl)




Screenings (% through 2mm screen)




Ripening (days +/- Isabel)








Crown rust




Note: Disease on a 1–9 scale, where a high figure indicates higher resistance, [ ] = limited data


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