EXPERIENCES WITH OAT AT TEMPERATE AND HIGH ELEVATIONS OF BHUTAN

Tsering Gyaltsen

Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre
Ministry of Agriculture
Yusipang, Thimphu

Abstract

Traditionally, farmers grow wheat after harvest of high altitude paddy for feeding their livestock during dry winter months when the fodder availability becomes scarce. Oat (Avena sativa) is an introduced crop to Bhutan. Although the oat cultivation dates back to early seventies, its adoption rate by farmers is much lower except farmers of Dopshari, Paro. Oat has become a popular winter fodder crop in rice system only in the recent years through the results of field trials and demonstrations. During the year 2001-2002, a total of 550 farmers participated in the program and brought an area of 148 acres under oats fodder cultivation in Thimphu and Paro districts. Oat fodder was said to be more palatable than wheat according to the farmers. Fodder yield is estimated more than double that of wheat fodder. The most important aspect of the oat is a multi cut crop. Oats has the potential to be an important winter fodder crop in Bhutan while it also allows for important land-use intensification, as it provides better fodder yield from same unit of land than traditionally grown wheat. Although oats is becoming more popular as winter-feed than wheat, farmers’ still grow substantial amount of wheat. They require wheat flour for performing religious ceremonies and for brewing local alcohol (ara). The demand for oats seed is also on increase by the yak herders. Herders cultivate oats in summer and preserve as hay for feeding during winter.

At present, Bhutan has only one oat cultivars (FOB) released to the extension program. Few other cultivars have been tested and are under observations in the farmers’ fields. The cultivar that seems to be suitable under Bhutanese conditions is “Stampede” and “Naked”.

Introduction

Oat is an introduced crop in Bhutan. The only oat variety used at present is probably introduced in the seventies either from Japan or India. According to progressive farmer (oat promoter in Dopshari more than 20 years), he relates the story of oat introduction after the time of flood in Paro valley during 1969.  He supports this statement that there was nothing left for the livestock to graze on the ground and when he approached to late Dasho Nishoka who was then the Colombo Plan Expert in Paro valley, he was given a packet of Oat seed to sow in his farm. From that small package, the farmer managed to produce the seed and oat remained confined at his farm for quite some time. Slowly some neighbours started showing interest and cultivated for fodder. In the seventies, many oat varieties were also introduced and tested for their grain production but farmers did not adopt oat for gain production (RC, Jakar extension recommendation, 2002). The cultivar presently used in extension originated from an early introduction to Paro.

Until a few years ago, oat as fodder was not popular except with few farmers of Dopshari at Paro. Farmers in some parts of Bhutan are reluctant to use oat because it resembles wild oat (Avena fatua), which is a major weed species in winter cereals.

Traditionally all the farmers at high altitude grow winter cereals (wheat/barley) for feeding animal during lean period. These cereals are grown after the high altitude rice harvest where the paddy field stays fallow for almost 5-6 months. The fodder is mainly cut and stall-fed. The yak herders also grow wheat/barley during summer in the yak night pen and preserved as hay for feeding the stock in winter.

Research work carried on Oats

On farm test was conducted during 1996 to compare oats with the traditional fodder crop local wheat. The trial was sown in the first week of November after rice harvest at elevations of 2200 masl. The result obtained is presented in table 1.

Table 1: Fodder production under rice system

Treatment

FW kg/ha

DM kg/ha

Ht. in (cm)

Tiller number/plant

Remarks

Oat (broadcast)

9277.5

1772.0

46.35

19.55

Av. of 3 cuts

Oat (line sown)

10477.0

1990.0

54.6

19.85

 -Do-

Local wheat

(broadcast)

5635.0

1226.5

37.0

12.10

Av. of 2 cuts

Management: surface irrigation was provided to all plots at an interval of 3-4 weeks. Urea (N fertilizer) at the rate 20 kg N at the time of sowing and after first harvest was applied.

Oat was also tested under relay seeding in rice system at Mebari, Chukha (1820m) during 1997-98. Green yield recorded 2.7 t/ha and report published in the Proceedings of 4th. National Livestock Research Coordination Workshop and Tropical Grasslands (2001) Volume 35,235-240) of the RNR RC, Jakar.

A study was conducted on evaluating cereals for winter fodder production at Soe yaksa (4000m) during 2001 (May to September). The study was aimed at evaluating performance of various cereal fodder crops and then to find out the suitable species to overcome the fodder shortage during winter season. Seeds were sown in 8 rows with a distance of 20 cm between the rows, and with the row length of 2.5m. The trial was sown in the yak winter night-pen. The fresh yield of different cereal crop with 3 replicates and 8 treatments are presented in table 2.

Table 2: Fresh yield of fodder crop (4000m)

Treatment

Fresh Yield (kg/plot of 4m2)

Total

Treatment

Mean

Rep I

Rep II

Rep III

Local Wheat

4.40

8.00

5.50

17.90

5.97

Fodder Oat Bhutan

10.00

10.50

11.00

31.50

10.50

Oat, Stampede

10.80

19.10

18.50

48.40

16.13

Oat, Naked

20.49

14.20

18.00

52.69

17.56

Rye presently used

10.80

11.20

10.00

32.00

10.67

Triticale 1

10.70

9.70

11.80

32.20

10.73

Triticale 2

5.30

6.50

11.00

22.80

7.60

Triticale, Double take

10.80

15.00

13.60

39.40

13.13

Before the trial was harvested, the herders were asked to assess on the selection of species that are best for hay crop in future. The score given by the herders were based on physical observations and table 3 shows the top three species selected by the herders.

Table 3: Species preference by the herders in future

Rank

Fodder Species

1

Oat “Stampede”

2

Oat “Naked”

3

Fodder Oat Bhutan and Triticale “Double take”

A similar study is on going in the RNR Research Center’s adopted village at Khasadrapchu in Thimphu in rice system. The trial was sown on 20/11/2001 after the rice harvest. Two harvests were already made to assess the Dry matter production. A field day was conducted involving all farmers of the adopted village, extension of Thimphu district and research staff from Yusipang. During the field day, the group was taken to farmers’ oat fields and research managed plots. Crop cuts were demonstrated and differences of fodder production under farmers’ managed and research managed plots were presented to the group. Farmers were also asked to assess the selection of preferred species for future planning/selection of varieties. The score given by the farmers were exactly same as of the score given by the yak herders (table 3).

Table 4: shows the difference of fodder production between farmers’ managed and research managed plots.

Name of farmer

Village

Height in cm

Fresh yield/ha

Remarks

Mrs. Dema

Khasadrapchu

19.57

2068.00

Sown 16.2.2002 Irrigation – 2 times, and Urea top dressed once. Crop at early booting stage.

Mrs. Pasang Om

Khasadrapchu

41.33

7132.00

Sown 12.12.2001, irrigation – 3times, urea top dressed once and crop flowering stage.

Ex.Gup Kinley  

Rama

26.6

8333.00

Sown during 9th. Bhutanese month. Irrigated 2 times. Crop flowering stage. No urea applied only FYM

Mr.Rinzin 

Rama

41.5

12,000.00

Management same as Kinley except urea top-dressed once. Crop flowering stage.

Research plot

Khasadrapchu

74.66

20,000.00

Sown 20.11.2001. Irrigation –4 times. Urea top-dressed once.

The difference of yield is mainly attributed to sowing date, frequent irrigation and N application.

Oat in extension program

Under the Feed and Fodder Development program of the Ministry of Agriculture, farmers are given free inputs (perennial pasture seeds), fodder tree seedlings and technical guidance on enrichment of crop residues, particularly paddy straw. Land, being the basic input is the greatest limitation for pasture development. Farmers give first preference to cultivation of food crops in smallholding is well understood. Keeping such limitations in mind, the livestock research program has been seriously concerned to find out other alternatives of growing fodder crops under orchards, identifying promising fodder species that can be grown in fallow period etc. Oat although was not in the approved list of free inputs supply of the Ministry of Agriculture, it was identified as one of the potential crop to serve as an important winter fodder crop in rice system.  Of late, the oat seed is distributed free of cost to the farmers.  Depending on the elevations, oat could be used as summer or winter grown fodder.

  1. Summer grown fodder above 2600-4000m:  Sown in early summer (April-May) and preserved as hay in October for feeding yak in winter months.  Presently only a small plot is planted in the winter night yak- pen by the yak community in Soe yaksa under Paro district.

  2. Winter grown fodder below 2600m: Sown in November-December after rice harvest. At present, it is mainly grown in the districts of Paro, Thimphu, and Trongsa. The fodder harvest starts from March till early May with cut and carries system.

Adoption rate of Oat by farmers

About 80% of farmers in Dopshari in Paro grow oats with the minimum area of 1-2 langdos (4 langdos = 1 acre). Whereas in the rest of the blocks adoption rate is low to almost nil (RNR RC, Yuispang Biennial report, (1998-2000).  During the year 1999-2000, RC, Yusipang distributed 150 kg Oat and 100 kg rye (Secale cereale) seed to Paro and Thimphu farmers for extension-led on-farm, farmer-designed and farmer-managed trial. A total of 51 farmers participated. Technical guidance was provided both from extension and research.

Three field days were organized jointly with the districts to create awareness on winter fodder cultivation. 105 farmers have participated in the field day. Participants were both oat growers and non-growers. The oat growers reported milk increase if 1-2 bottles just by supplementing 5- 8 kg of oat green fodder. From the subsequent year, the demand for oat seed was increased from the farmers in both districts. The demand is actually higher from the semi-commercial milk production areas.

Total of oat seed supplied to farmers through District Livestock Extension Program in Thimphu and Paro for last 2 years is presented in table 5.

Table 5: Oat seed supplied to farmers through extension program.

Dzongkhag

Seed supplied

Remarks

Paro

3500 kg

370 farmers participated and total area under oat fodder cultivation 107.88 acres

Thimphu

2715 kg

A total of 180 farmers participated

Oat Seed Production

At present, some farmers of Dopshari village in Paro district are producing seed.  These farmers were selling oat seed for quite sometime to Government farms and as well as to private entrepreneurs. During 2001, three farmers sold total oat seed of 5582 kg at the rate of Nu 20/ per kilogram. The farmers have generated cash income of total Nu. 111,640.00 (source: Paro Dzongkhag Livestock Sector). The seed is mainly produced in the rice field during the fallow period.

Oat cultivation-Sustainability

A very good example is Dopshari village at Paro. The farmers themselves have managed oat since more than 20 years. It may be important to supply oat seed in the villages where it is new crop. Oat seed can easily be produced in the rice based system as the technology has been proven and already in practice. Only the farmers need to do is to save one of oat terrace for seed production for their own use. The seed production at 4000m is a problem and to make the cereal promotion sustainable, it is crucial to carry out seed production trial of promising species at high elevation.

Present trends

Oat is becoming is very popular fodder crop after rice harvest in Thimphu and Paro. Traditional fodder crop wheat is now declining as the fodder production and palatability is low compared to oats. However some of the farmers still grow substantial area of wheat for flour and brewing purpose. Demand for the oat seed from the yak herders are also on increase in short span of the time.

Constraints in growing Oats

In the high altitude areas, oats are cultivated in yak night pen, which are poorly fenced due to lack of sufficient fencing materials. At present, herders use Juniper shingles to fence the pen, which is not healthy from the ecological as well as sustainability point of view in the long run. Hence, it is vital to work with farmers to find out the alternatives like Logmashing (native willow shrub), which can be used as live fence. Yaks do not graze this shrub. In the lower elevations, some farmers have problem of irrigation.

Scope for introduction of new outstanding varieties

There is potential for testing new varieties. Oat cultivars like Stampede and Naked were tested recently in experimental sites have proven superior variety than the present recommended oat (Fodder Oat Bhutan) in term of fodder production. However, seed production under rice system seems to be bit of problem as cultivar “stampede” is late maturing. Further research may be important on seed production of promising new cultivars.

Dost Mohammad 1995 reported 20t/ha of green fodder in Gilgit, Pakistan under farmers’ management system. The FAO under the Temperate Asia Pasture and Fodder Network (TAPAFON) programme can support in exchanging oats germplasm amongst the member countries in the coming years.

Conclusions

Dry long winter period affects the productivity of livestock. Fodder scarcity is severe from January through April. Production is at its lowest during these months and in the case of yak, milk production is low to nil. Yak herders have also reported high mortality due to fodder scarcity. It is therefore very important that we look into solving fodder shortage through introduction of high yielding/promising fodder species so that the farmers are not at the losing end.

References

Proceedings of the Fourth RNR Research, Extension & Irrigation Review and Planning Workshop 20-22 January 1998, Yusipang, Thimphu.

Proceedings of the Fourth Meeting of Temparate Asia Pasture and Fodder Netwrok (TAPAFON) PFI, Peshwar, Pakistan June6-11, 2000.

Biennial Report 1998-2000, RNR RC, Yusipang.

National Livestock Research Program, Fodder Production in Bhutan –A handbook for extension Agent, January 2002.

Evaluating Cereals for Winter Fodder Production (T.Gyaltsen, N.Wangchuk &G.Thinley) paper presented during the National Livestock Coordination Meeting, Gelephu, January 2002.

Mohammad Dost, Fodder Production in the north Pakistan, page number 24 of Workshop Proceeding of Temperate Asia Pasture and Fodder Sub-Regional Working Group, Katmandu, February 26-March 2, 1995.