It’s taken 10 years, and a lot of hard work and persistence for Saskatchewan oat breeder Jim Dyck of Oat Advantage, to launch his two, new oat varieties that are getting oat growers and miller excited.
The two varieties — named ORe 3541M and ORe 3542M — will be available through SeCan. They’re are both short, medium maturity varieties with resistance to crown rust. On-farm yields across the Prairies in the last two years have been excellent. In Manitoba, even with dry conditions the last couple of years, farmers saw yields of 150 bu./acre to 190 bu./acre for the two varieties; comparable to established oat varieties such as CS Camden and AC Summit.
“We have seen some good management through the growing season and for harvest and both these varieties have very good grain quality, which I think will redefine a little bit of where we could go with oats as an industry,” says Dyck.
What is setting these new varieties apart is the consistent, high grain quality. They both have a larger percentage of plump seeds, which is important to millers. Thin seeds are cleaned off during the milling process and either sold as feed or thrown out. “Our varieties have about one or two per cent of thin seed, which is very low,” says Dyck. “Often, mills are having to discard a significant portion of thin seed.”
That’s important for growers because consistent, high grain quality is what millers are always looking for. Millers will be running grain produced this year through their facilities to evaluate them but from what they have seen so far, millers seem to be excited about the new varieties.
Dyck says touring the Richardson mill at Portage la Prairie a few years ago gave him a good sense of what millers look for in an oat variety. “You can see how the size and the shape of the grain is so important to them as you see the realities of what flows through a mill,” he says. “The size and shape really has a big effect, so that gave me even more encouragement to make sure that not only do these varieties that we produce do well on the farm, but that they go through the mills well.”
Time to re-imagine oats
Oats have been something of a Cinderella crop over the years, not attracting as much research interest or funding as other cereal crops like wheat.
“A hundred years ago a large amount of the farm acreage would be put into oats just for horses, and they were always seeded last because they didn’t matter so much. Oat hasn’t had as much work done on it, so it’s a bit cluttered genetically, but what that means is that there is lots of room for improvement and that’s exciting,” says Dyck. “I think that with ongoing research and development we can redesign and re-imagine oats. Oats have fibre that reduces cholesterol and has many health benefits and there is the potential to do so much more with oats. “
Dyck’s future oat breeding projects include looking at increasing yields through restructuring the plant architecture, increasing protein content and developing oats that are less dusty and itchy.
“What we see in the field right now is the ability to reshape the architecture of the oat panicle a little bit,” says Dyck. “As we go through some of the crosses that we’ve made and the genetics that we’re developing, there are some improved looking panicles that have a nice balanced look and more seeds per stock. So we are working on re-directing the oat plant to reshape their panicles to have a higher yield. That’s where we are going with the ‘ORe’: oats re-designed and re-imagined.”
Protein is important
Plant protein is a big area of focus for the food sector today as consumers look for meat replacements and higher protein foods. Oats generally have a protein level in the 14 to 15 per cent range, but Dyck believes it’s possible to raise protein to 20 per cent or more.
The Prairie Oat Growers Association is working with the Government of Canada to try and improve market access for oats into China. After attending a conference in China in 2012, Dyck says he was surprised by the amount of oats that the Chinese eat. “They turn oats into noodles, wraps, perogies. They use oat flour for everything, so if we can access their markets and give them a good product that would be a huge impact on oats,” says Dyck. Currently, Australia is able to ship commodity oats to China, while there are restrictions for Canada.
With regard to hulless oats, there is a variant that has hairless kernels which have been around for a while, but Dyck is trying to produce a regular, hulled milling oat without hair to make them less itchy. He also will be looking at how the dust from oats affects mechanical milling processes and whether reducing the dust would have benefits for the milling industry. “Once these types of things are genetically in place in the oat crop, it could be there permanently so other researchers can work with it too,” says Dyck.
There should be enough seed of ORe 3541M and ORe 3542M available for about 100,000 acres for the 2019 growing season and millers are already contracting growers for these varieties.
What do the numbers mean?
Plant breeders and seed companies all have their own preferences when it comes to naming varieties, but those numbers you see on the seed tub or sign in a field usually mean something. In the case of the two new oat varieties from Oat Advantage — ORe3541M and ORe 3542M — they describe the performance and traits that they offer.
3: Very good lodging resistance (on a scale of 1 best to 9 worst)
5: Medium maturity (on a scale of 1 earliest to 9 latest)
4: Above average yield (on a scale of 1 best to 9 worst)
1 and 2: First and second in the series for this agronomic line