Oat industry meets in Baton Rouge

Richard Bogren, Harrison, Stephen A.  |  1/4/2011 1:15:44 AM

Mike Bonman, foreground, a plant pathologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Aberdeen, Idaho, talks about oat diseases at a field tour that was part of the American Oat Workers Conference, Monday, April 19, in Baton Rouge, La. (Photo by Steve Harrison. Click on image for downloadable photo.)

News Release Distributed 04/23/10

BATON ROUGE, La. – Research scientists in every area of oats – from plant breeding and pathology to cereal chemistry, nutrition and molecular genetics – recently met in Baton Rouge for three days of meetings that covered all aspects of science, production, product development and marketing of oats.

“Ninety percent of everyone who works on oats in North America is here,” said Steve Harrison, a small-grains breeder at the LSU AgCenter and host of the American Oat Workers Conference.

The conference was sponsored by the American Oat Workers, said Harrison, who is current president of the organization, which is made up of individuals in research institutions and industry from Canada, Mexico and the United States.

A 1 1/2-day workshop on molecular genetics preceded the conference and focused on an international project to develop molecular tools for oat breeding, Harrison said.

“A consortium of land-grant universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are working together on a molecular toolbox to bring oat research up to the level of corn and soybeans,” he said.

The total investment in oat breeding in the United States is approximately $6 million a year, and all oat research in the United States is conducted by universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Harrison said. No private companies are doing oat breeding.

“Oats is a low-input, self-seeding crop that wouldn’t provide much income for a private company,” the LSU AgCenter plant breeder said.

“No private seed companies are investing in oat research,” said Bruce Roskens, senior manager for agricultural research and commodity development for Quaker Oats. “Land-grant universities like LSU and others are doing variety development.”

Quaker has sponsored oat variety development in the United States since 1939 and for the past 40 years in Canada, Roskens said. “We want all varieties even better in nutrition and to yield better for producers.”

Oats compete with corn and soybeans for farmers’ land and resources, he said.

“Oats are just as subject to perils of weather, plant diseases and other problems,” Roskens said. “It’s a constant battle.”

Quaker markets oats as food and purchases grain based on nutrition and milling quality, Roskens said. His company always is interested in what can be done with new farming technology, he added.

The LSU AgCenter is home to the Quaker International Oat Nursery, an ongoing, year-to-year plant nursery with more than 100 individual varieties, Roskens said. The AgCenter’s Harrison is curator of the collection, which is grown in Baton Rouge and duplicated at the University of Florida research and education center in Quincy, Fla.

Varieties in the nursery come not only from North America but also from Brazil, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Canada, where they also are planted and evaluated for disease and suitability for the individual environments, Roskens said..

The Quaker nursery is a permanent international germplasm exchange in oats with varieties from every continent, said Ron Barnett, an agronomist at the University of Florida who works with the Quaker nursery. “It gives access to the best genes from everyone’s material,” he said.

The leading oat use in the South is in wildlife plots, Barnett said.

“We probably have one million acres in Southern food plots,” Barnett said, and researchers are developing winter-hardy oat varieties suitable for wildlife plots.

“Most hunters agree oats are the preferred wildlife food plot in the fall and winter,” Barnett said. “They improve the habitat.”

“Oat breeding in the United States wouldn’t be possible without support from the stakeholders,” he added.

The American Oat Workers meets every four years. The last meeting was in Fargo, N.D., and the next meeting is scheduled for Ottawa, Canada.

The meetings are underwritten by major oat grower organizations and processors, including Quaker Oats, General Mills, Country Choice, 21st Century Grain Processing, Prairie Oat Growers Association, the University of Saskatchewan and the North American Millers Association.

Rick Bogren

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