Over the past 10 years, oats have gone from being somewhat of an afterthought to one of the more lucrative crops grown on the Prairies. Oats are a useful crop to have in the rotation as they are cold tolerant and can be planted earlier than other crops. They also fetch a fairly good price and shipping is straightforward, as millers are strategically located across the Prairies. There is even a new processing plant in the works for Manitoba. However, as growers think about adding oats to the rotation, they will want to consider the agronomic practices that improve quality carefully.
Meeting milling quality requirements is of the utmost importance if growers want to receive top dollar for their crop. Oat millers like Saskatchewan-based Grain Millers Canada look for oats that meet or exceed their quality specifications.
The oats millers want
Top-quality oats are heavy, dry and sound, says Scott Shiels, grain procurement manager at Grain Millers Canada. To be accepted, they also need to be free of other grain as well as inseparable weeds or seeds.
“The varieties that we buy have been selected for not only their agronomic quality but for their nutritional quality and milling characteristics as well,” says Shiels. “We buy oats that will make good-quality, consistent, finished products for the consumer, and for the companies that use them for food ingredients.”
Shipments to Grain Millers Canada could be rejected for any number of reasons but high moisture is probably the biggest cause. The company has a hard cap of 14 per cent moisture content. They do not accept anything above that.
“We also have zero tolerance for any heated oats, grain bug infestation, or fertilizer contamination in the grain,” says Shiels.
“As a miller, we only buy milling quality oats, and we pay a premium to the regular oat market for them,” he adds. “There are rare times where we have opportunities to buy gluten-free milling oats for specific customers who request that product. When we do get the chance to buy some of these oats, we do pay a good premium over and above the market price to the producer.”
Management practices for higher test weight
There are definitely management practices that farmers can adopt when aiming for higher test weight for milling quality, Manitoba Agriculture cereals specialist Anne Kirk explains.
In general, the main recommendation for growing top-quality oats is to seed early. Oats are one of the more frost-tolerant cereal crops, which make them suitable for early seeding in the Prairie provinces.
“The research shows that seeding early does contribute to better quality oats,” says Kirk.
In Manitoba, Kirk says this could be as early as the end of April or early May. However, that depends on field conditions. One of the reasons to seed earlier is to avoid flowering in the hottest part of summer, which could result in fewer seeds per plant.
“Early seeding has shown in research to maximize yields by increasing the seed size and the test weight,” says Kirk. “Also, it provides a competitive advantage over wild oats.”