A Guide to Growing Oats

Michael Feldmann
Friday, 15th January 2021

From suitable climate, and land selection, to soil prep, sowing and harvesting - a guide to growing oats.

Oats is an ancient grain that is of Mediterranean origin. Ancient grains like oats are claimed to be more nutritious and healthier than modern grains. Recently oats became very popular due to their health benefits. They are an important source of fiber, especially beta-glucan, and are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In addition, oats are the only source of avenanthramides, a unique group of antioxidants believed to protect against heart disease. Though it is commonly grown for livestock and animal feed, it can be dehulled and ground into flour for baking.

The Reasons of Cultivating Oats

Being a short-season crop, oats easily fit between crop rotations at a time when the fields might otherwise be idle. Oats can be grown as a cover crop and green fodder, improving the soil and suppressing weeds. Oats are a great source of forage and they can be used as hay, silage, and pasture for cattle and sheep. Oats grew to importance because of their suitability for feeding and bedding for livestock.

History & Economic Importance

Oats (Avena sativa), a domesticated cereal grass family (Poaceae) is a minor cereal cultivated primarily for livestock feed, human food, and industrial purposes which are used in many countries and regions. Oats is the seventh most economically important cereal after corn, rice, wheat, barley, sorghum, and millet. The original wild form of the cultivated oats is not exactly known, although it is believed to have existed in Central or Western Asia and Eastern Europe. Archaeological research indicates that oats have been grown since about 2000 BC.


Largest oat producers (2018) - Wikipedia

Oats are cultivated all over the world, but the majority of its production is located in Russia, Canada, and Spain. In the United States, oats are exceeded in area and value only by corn and wheat. In all the countries of northern Europe, oat occupies an important place. Oats have been a major U.S. crop since colonial times. According to records of the earliest settlements, oats were first planted with other small grains in the United States on Cuttyhunk island off the coast of Massachusetts in 1602s. Oats in the United States are often served as a porridge with milk or cream and sweetener such as brown sugar or honey. Oat also has a long culinary tradition in Scotland. Since oats are better suited to low temperatures and high humidity. As a result, Oats have become the main grain of Scotland. The old Scottish universities had a holiday called "Meal Monday" when students could return to their farms and collect oats for food.


In the United States, oats are planted in early spring at the depth of about 1–2 inches and harvested in mid-summer. Compost or manure should be applied within the fall preceding planting, and oats should be planted in moderately fertile, well-drained soils. Oats require more water than other cereals, however, and can have the best in seasons with adequate rainfall. It's recommended that in the autumn before planting, oat growers' disc and ridge their soil to aerate and warm the soil more quickly in the spring; this may help reduce the probabilities of injury caused by phytotoxins (harmful toxins in soil residue). A general rule for the northeast is that oats will do well within the same types of soils preferred for potatoes.


Because oats thrive in cool weather and can tolerate light frosts, they should be planted as early as possible, once the ground is suitable for cultivation. They're going to germinate more quickly than most cereals, compete against early weeds, and take advantage of spring moisture within the soil. Typically, oats are planted with a grain drill at the rate of about 2.5 bushels per acre (80 lb/acre). Seed may also be broadcast and then gently tilled or culti-packed, but the seeding rate may have to be increased to three bushels/acre (96 lbs./Acre) to permit for equivalent germination. Thin-hulled varieties of oats generally produce higher yields (and groat percent, or the percentage of the whole kernel's mass that is usable groat), and may contain more protein as well. During a small-scale or home garden, preparing and planting oats are often done with a rotary tiller. 

Till the soil in the fall before planting, sprinkle the seeds by hand when the soil warms up in the spring, and then gently process the seedbed so that the seeds come into contact with the soil. Although oats thrive in fertile soil, they grow without heavy fertilization and can be negatively affected by large amounts of nitrogen. Once the growing season begins, the color of the plants will indicate soil fertility; dark green oats means that the soils contain too much nitrogen and can be more likely to lodge or fall over, whereas light green plants will indicate that the nitrogen in the soil is insufficient and will possibly yield poor-quality oats. (If your oats aren't high-quality enough for milling, they can be used as livestock feed instead.)

Cultural Practices

Rotating cereal crops is an effective way to control weeds. Additionally, oats are often planted with red clover, which is able to displace weed populations and can be left in the ground for another year of growth. This may ultimately improve soils by adding nutrients to the field while reducing the potential for erosion. Clover can either be inter-seeded at an equivalent time as oats with a grain drill or broadcast after the oats have established themselves. If broadleaf weeds are a problem in A field used to grow oats, growers can plant the oats and then blindly do A light harrow before the oats emerge to destroy the oncoming weeds. Legumes like clover can then be broadcasted once the oats are within the three- or four-leaf stage. When needed, oats are often cultivated with A tine-weeder to kill weeds, but the oats themselves will compete fiercely with weeds later in the season. In small gardens, oats can be planted in rows and cultivated to reduce weeds.

If the oats are harvested as A cereal crop, their stalks can be chopped and left on the ground, and therefore the stubble will catch snow and protect the soil through the cold northeast winter. Because the roots and stalks of oats are rich in carbon, they can then be turned into the soil the following spring to enhance soils. Oats are often used in this way as A “catch crop” for their ability to require up excess soluble nutrients, which are re-released once the plant is tilled into the soil and broken down. 

Leaf or crown rust can be a problem for oat growers, but rust-resistant varieties are now available, and removing any potential hosts (such as wheat, triticale, and wild grasses) from the sides of the field will also minimize damage. Rust is one of the most more serious problem in the southern and central united states, but northern growers need to be aware of its existence. Likewise, aphids are known to enjoy oats. Rotate crops and avoid planting oats in the same field year after year will minimize disease and pests.

Harvesting & Storing

When the oats are fully ripe, healthy plants should have a solid yellow color. They should not be harvested for grain until they're very ripe unless they are to be windrowed. For milling, growers should choose a variety of oats with a plump kernel and, ideally, a test weight of a minimum of 38 lb/bushel. A test weight of less than 30 lb/bushel indicates the crop contains shriveled oats with little potential for both germination and nutrition. Because processors value the quality of milling oats, important characteristics of excellent oats are usually high dough weight, bright cereal color, the high proportion of cereals, low oil content, and high protein and beta-glucan content.

Usually, oats can be harvested about 12 weeks after they're planted. In areas where weeds are prevalent, it may be helpful to swath or cut, the crop before combining. The weeds will definitely make harvesting more difficult, and the weed seeds and chaff will be difficult to separate from the oats. Swathing first and then rolling the oats will further ripen and dry if conditions are dry. Some combines have pickup attachments that can harvest these windrows, and lots of northern growers use this method, insisting that oats ripen slowly and unevenly on the plant. 

Oats should have a moisture content of 12-12.5% for harvesting and storage, and should only be harvested in dry conditions. In some cases, further aeration is going to be required once the oats are harvested. To keep oat quality high, it's important to keep your crop free of insects and mold, and thoroughly dry and store the crop. 

Oats can be threshed and winnowed in the same way as wheat, but the further processing required for human consumption can be a difficult process. Oatmeal has a hard, tight hull around them, that must be removed before use. De-hulling oats can be a complex process, usually done with either compressed air or an impact de-huller. For large-scale growers, it may be difficult to search out processing facilities. There are hull-less varieties of oats, aveda nuda L., But some growers in the northeast avoid “naked oats” due to their low yields and high desirability to birds (others suggest that because the plants aren't usually strong enough to support a hungry bird's weight, bird damage isn't a significant problem).

When oats were first harvested for human consumption, they were husked in stone mills, winnowed to remove hulls and debris, and ground to coarse flour, which took three or four hours of boiling for the lumpy, pasty oatmeal to be eaten. Now, processors heat oats to create the hulls brittle and easier to get rid of, then remove the hulls from groats with impact or compressed air de-hullers. The groats can then be used as they are (although this takes much longer to cook this way) or sprouted. They can be rolled and flaked, or cut into oatmeal steel. Oats are sometimes steamed to increase shelf life, which stabilizes the lipase enzyme (which is problematic due to the relatively high-fat content of oats). However, in cool climates, many suggest that steaming could also be an unnecessary step for small-scale growers unless the oat variety is extremely high in oils and causes concern over rancidity.

The Use of Oats for Livestock Feed

Oat cultivation and the use of oats for livestock feed have long traditions in the United States and other countries. Proper oat cultivation, produce top-quality oats in terms of weight and kernel size, well suited for both human consumption and livestock feed. Both covered and dehulled oats are used in the production of animal feed. Oats are perfect for both milling and feeding purposes. Oats are relatively widely used in the Nordic countries and the southern United States as a portion of pet food. Dehulled oats can be compared to corn and wheat for feed. Due to its high nutritional value and protein content, oatmeal has a beneficial effect on health. They can also be mixed with other grains. Oats can be used for both ruminants and monogastric animals. They are very suited for the feeding pets, such as cats, dogs, and other animals, and can be added to animal feeds as a cereal ingredient. The fat content of oats increases its energy content, which is an important attribute in horse feeds. In pet foods, oats prevent allergies and do not irritate the intestine. Oats also improve the shine of the fur, reduce diarrhea, and are well suited for preventing gluten absorption disorders.

Oats Uses

Oats have many uses in foods. They are most commonly rolled or crushed into oatmeal, or ground into fine oat flour. Oatmeal is can be eaten as porridge, but may also be used in a variety of baked goods, such as oatcakes, oatmeal cookies, oat bread, oat milk, and are also an important ingredient in many cold cereals, in particular muesli and granola, along with various other food production uses.

Useful links

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