AT A RECENT Ontario Cereal Crop Committee (OCCC) meeting there was a good discussion around oat yields in Ontario. If you look at the trendlines for oat yields in Ontario compared to western Canada, you will see that while Ontario yields continue to increase, the gains in yield potential are behind those seen in Western Canada. Some questioned whether it was because of more variety development in Western Canada compared to Ontario, but when you look at the Ontario data, that is not the case. When looking at the OCCC data you will see that the five-year average for oat yields in Area 2 is 1.52 t/ac, 1.64 t/ac in Area 3, and 2.05 t/ac in Area 5, go to https://www.gocereals.ca/performance.php?id=oa for the oat performance trial cumulative yield index summary. Oat yields that are in line with Western Canada, or better, are possible in Ontario and growers are doing it; however, we still have room to improve.
If you want to push your oat yields and ultimately improve the profitability of this crop, you need to be managing it. Just like wheat, oats are responsive to planting date and the earlier you can plant the better off you are. By planting early, and even frost-seeding if the conditions will allow, you are more likely to avoid those hot and dry periods that can occur during pollination and the grain fill period. In southern Ontario, the target date for normal seeding is April 10, April 15 for central and eastern Ontario, and May 10 for northern Ontario. Using a starter fertilizer and fine tuning your nitrogen (N) rates have also proven to increase yields; however, there can be a fine line between too little N and too much N where lodging becomes a concern. Using a fungicide can also improve yields especially in the presence of disease. Timely fungicide applications can be effective in managing crown rust and can help avoid the weakening of stalks that can occur with this disease, ultimately reducing the lodging that can come with it. While products have not yet been registered in Ontario, plant growth regulators have shown to be an effective tool in managing lodging in oats and may be an option in the near future.
At the end of the day the yield potential of our varieties is there, we just need to unlock it by fine tuning our management. •