Researchers continue quest for organic oats

Photo: Thinkstock

By Karen Briere
OrganicBiz staff

Four years after the first organically bred oat variety was registered in Canada commercial seed is still not available.

Terry Tyson, procurement manager for Grain Millers in Yorkton, Sask., said it’s been a long haul to get Oravena to market. In the meantime, a second variety, OT8006, was approved for registration in March.

Both varieties were developed through the organic oat breeding program at Agriculture Canada in Brandon, with support from Grain Millers, Clif Bar and the federal organic science cluster. All research is conducted under organic conditions until the varieties reach co-op trials.

Tyson said that’s important because all the selections are made without inputs.

“The story of Oravena has been a story of weather issues,” he told an organic workshop.

Grain Millers sublicensed the variety to Fedoruk Seeds, which in turn subcontracted to organic farmers for seed production.

It’s got high test weight, high thousand kernel weight, high protein and good beta glucan. – Terry Tyson

Tyson said the first year was “super wet” and 7.5 acres of breeder seed was sown on alfalfa breaking, land seeded to its first crop following alfalfa.

“It yielded phenomenally but it fell over flat,” he said.

The quality was still decent, but high nitrogen and moisture laid down the crop.

The second year was the opposite. Bone-dry conditions resulted in yields of only 40 bushels per acre on grass breaking, although the crop didn’t lodge. Quality was strong.

“Year three was last year and we had quite a bit of acreage going into the ground to the point where we should have had commercial seed available this spring,” Tyson said. “But then the fall weather hit. A good chunk of the acres didn’t get harvested.”

Yields at Swift Current were about 80 bushels per acre, but too much rain ruined the germ.

Seed producers will try again this year.

Four cultivars have advanced to the co-op trials since the first crosses were made in 2005 and Tyson said selection focuses on yield, lodging resistance, milling characteristics, nutrition, disease resistance and early maturity.

“And we want leafiness. We want competitiveness to outcompete the weeds.”

Cultivars have to be in the trials for two years before they can be proposed for registration.

Tyson said OT8006, which will get a new name likely through a contest, is later maturing, at 94 days, and later heading, at 58 days, than they would like. However it has very high yield potential and is similar to Morgan in yield and standability.

Tall and leafy, it has average groat-to-hull percentage and high oil levels. Tyson said three years ago, the variety would have had to be tossed out based on the oil level but increasing acceptance of plant-based oils has changed the market.

Like most varieties, it is moderately resistant to moderately susceptible to crown and stem rust.

“It’s got high test weight, high thousand kernel weight, high protein and good beta glucan,” he added.

Tyson encouraged organic growers to help increase seed. It has to be done on clean, breaking land and will involve roguing, he said.