EXPERIENCES WITH OATS (Avena sativa) AT TEMPERATE AND HIGH ELEVATIONS OF BHUTAN

Tshering Gyaltsen (Programme Officer, Livestock Sector RNRRC, Yusipang, Bhutan

(Paper presented at the 5th Temperate Asia Pasture and Fodder Network Meeting held at RNRRC Bajo, Bhutan from 30 April to 4 May, 2002)

Abstract

Traditionally, farmers grow wheat after harvest of high altitude paddy for feeding their livestock during dry winter months when fodder becomes scarce. Oats (Avena sativa) is an introduced crop to Bhutan. Although oat cultivation dates back to the early seventies, its adoption rate by farmers has been low except for the farmers of Dopshari, Paro. However, recently oats has become a popular winter fodder crop in the rice system through the results of field trials and demonstrations. During the period 2001-2002, a total of 550 farmers participated in the programme and brought an area of 148 acres under oat fodder cultivation in Thimphu and Paro districts. Among the green winter fodders, oats weree said to be more palatable than wheat. The yield of green oats is estimated at more than double that of green wheat and oats are also a multi-cut crop. Oats have the potential to be an important winter fodder crop in Bhutan, while also allowing for important land-use intensification, as oats provides better fodder yield from the same unit of land than the traditionally grown wheat. Although oats are becoming more popular than wheat as winter-feed, farmers still grow substantial amounts of wheat. They require wheat flour for performing religious ceremonies and for brewing local alcohol (ara). The demand for oat seed is also increasing with the yak herders. Herders cultivate oats in summer and preserve as hay for feeding during winter.

At present, Bhutan has only one oat cultivar (FOB) released to the extension programme. A few other cultivars have been tested and are under observations in farmers’ fields. The new cultivars that seem to be suitable under Bhutanese conditions are "Stampede" and "Naked".

Introduction

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

Until a few years ago, oats as fodder was not popular except with the few farmers of Dopshari at Paro. Farmers in some parts of Bhutan are reluctant to use oats 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 animals during lean periods. 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 pens and this is preserved as hay for feeding the stock in winter.

Research on Oats

On-farm tests was conducted during 1996 to compare oats with the traditional fodder crop, local wheat. The trial was sown in the first week of November in the rice-based system at elevations of 2200 masl. The results obtained are presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Fodder production

Treatment

FW kg/ha

DM kg/ha

Ht. (cm)

Tiller/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 intervals of 3 weeks. Urea (N fertilizer) at the rate 20 kg N at the time of sowing and after first harvest was applied.

Oats were also tested under relay seeding of forage species in a rice system at Mebari, Chukha (1820m) during 1997-98. Green yield recorded 2.7 t/ha (Proceedings of 4th National Livestock Research Coordination Workshop).

A study was conducted to evaluate cereals for winter fodder production at Soe Yaksa (4000m) during 2001 (May to September). The study aimed to evaluate performance of various cereal fodder crops and then to find out the recommendable species to address the fodder shortage during the 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-pens. The fresh yield of different cereal crops, with 3 replicates and 8 treatments, are presented in Table 2.

Table 2: Fresh Yield of different cereal crops with 3 replicates (rep) and 8 treatments

Treatment

Fresh Yield (kg/plot)

Treatment

Total (T)

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 in terms of the species they would select as best for the hay crop in future. The scores 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 for future hay crops

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 Centre’s adopted village at Khasadrapchu in Thimphu. The trial was sown on 20/11/2001 after the rice harvest. Two harvests had already made to assess the dry matter production at the time this paper was prepared. A field day was conducted recently involving all 21farmers from the adopted village, 4 district extension staff and research staff from Yusipang. During the field day, the group was taken to the farmer’s oat fields and research station plots. Crop cuts were demonstrated and differences of fodder production under farmers’ managed and research managed plots were presented to the group (see Table 4). Farmers were also asked to assess the selection of preferred species for future planning/selection of varieties. The scores given by the farmers were exactly the same as the scores given by the yak herders (Table3).

Table 4: Difference of fodder production between farmers’ managed oats and research managed plots

Name of farmer

Village

Height in cm

Fresh yield/ha

Remarks

Aum Dema

Khasadrapchu

19.57

2068.00

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

Aum Pasang Om

Khasadrapchu

 

7132.00

Sown 12.12.2001, irrigation – 3 times, urea topdressed 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 topdressed once. Crop flowering stage.

Research plot

Khasadrapchu

74.66

20,000.00

Sown 20.11.2001. Irrigation –4 times. Urea topdressed once.

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

Oats in the Extension Programme

Under the Feed and Fodder Development programme, 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 their smallholding, which is well understood. Keeping such limitations in mind, the livestock research programme in the country has been seriously concerned to find other alternatives such as growing fodder crops under orchards, identifying promising fodder species that can be grown in the fallow period etc. Although originally not in the approved list of free inputs supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture, oats were identified as one of the potential crops to serve as an important winter fodder crop in the rice system. Of late, oat seed is distributed free of cost to farmers. Depending on the elevation, oats can 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 small plots are planted in the winter night yak- pens 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 of oats is from March – early May with the cut and carry system.

Adoption Rate of Oats by Farmers

About 80% of farmers in Dopshari in Paro grow oats on at least 1-2 langdos (4 langdos = 1 acre), whereas in the rest of the blocks the 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 cereal) seed to Paro and Thimphu farmers for extension-led on-farm, farmer-designed and farmer-managed trials. 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 dairy farmers have participated in the field days. Participants were both oat growers and non-growers. The oat growers reported milk increases of 1-2 bottles just by feeding oats alone. The result was that from the subsequent year, the demand for oat seed was increased from farmers in both districts. The demand is actually higher from the semi-commercial milk production areas.

The total of oat seed supplied to farmers through the District Livestock Extension Programme in Thimphu and Paro for the last 2 years is presented in Table 5.

Table 5: Oat seed supplied to farmers through the extension programme

Dzongkhag

Seed supplied

Remarks

Paro

3500 kg

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

Thimphu

2715 kg

180 farmers participated and total area under oat cultivation 40 acres

 

Oat Seed Production

Oat seed (FOB) is being produced by the progressive farmers of Dopshari village in Paro district. These farmers have been selling oat seed for quite sometime to Government farms, as well as to private entrepreneurs. During the last year only 3 farmers sold a total of 5582 kgs at the rate of Nu 20/ per kilogram, generating a cash income totalling Nu. 1,11,640.00 (source: Paro Dzongkhag Livestock Sector). The seeds are mainly produced in the rice fields during the fallow period.

Oat cultivation-Sustainability

A very good example is Dopshari village in Paro. The farmers themselves have been managing oats for more than 20 years. It may be important to supply oat seed to the villages where it is a new fodder crop. Oat seed can easily be produced in the rice based system as research has already proven. What the farmers then need to do is to save one of their oat terraces for seed production for their own use. However, seed production at around 4000m is a problem and to make cereal promotion sustainable at such elevations, it is crucial to carry out seed production trials of promising species and cultivars.

Present Trends

Oats are becoming a very popular fodder crop after rice harvest in Thimphu and Paro. Traditional fodder crops like wheat are now declining due to poor yields and low palatability compared to oats. However, some farmers still grow substantial areas of wheat for flour and brewing purposes. Demand for oat seed from yak herders has also increased in a short span of time.

 

Constraints in Growing Oats

In the high altitude areas, oats are cultivated in yak night pens, which are poorly fenced due to a lack of sufficient fencing materials. At present, Juniper shingles are used to fence the pens, which is not healthy from the ecological as well as sustainability point of view in the long run. Hence, it is important to work with farmers to find alternatives like Logmashing (native willow shrub), which can be used as live fences. This shrub is not grazed by yaks. In the lower elevations, some farmers have a problem with irrigation.

Scope for Introduction of New Outstanding Varieties/Cultivars

There is definitely scope for testing new varieties and cultivars. Oat cultivars such as "Stampede" and "Naked" recently tested at experimental sites have proven superior to the presently recommended oats (Fodder Oat Bhutan). Dost Mohammad (1995) reported 20t/ha of green fodder in Gilgit, Pakistan. Further exchanging of oat varietie and cultivars between the TAPAFON member countries would highly benefit the member countries.

Conclusions

The long, dry 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 shortages through introduction of promising fodder species so that the herders are not at the losing end.

References