The contributors to this book have described fodder oat growing across five continents, with a very wide range of climates, and in farming systems varying from large-scale commercial enterprises to tiny peasant farms. A range of livestock is also involved: cattle, buffaloes, horses and small stock. The chapters indicate that fodder oats remain important in their traditional areas, and it is expanding in the subtropics as new uses are found for the crop.
The past half century has seen a great change in the area and distribution of oats. Fodder oats, however, are still an important crop and have been moving into new areas and uses as farmers modify their production systems and, in developing countries, livestock production becomes more commercially oriented. Most of the contributors to this book indicate that oats are a crop that is mainly used on the farm where grown, either as whole-crop fodder (conserved or not) or as feed grain, and much seed is also produced and used on the farm. These factors probably explain why data on areas grown are often inconsistent. In many places with hot growing seasons, coarse cereals, especially maize, have increased as a fodder at the expense of oats, and in humid, cool, temperate climates, pasture grasses, especially Lolium spp., have become very popular. Oats are, however, now being increasingly used in zones and seasons where they have a definite ecological advantage - areas too cool or dry for maize and perennial pasture. A little oats is grown at high altitudes in the tropics. There are two main situations where oats have a great advantage:
in cold, short growing seasons, either at high latitudes or high altitudes; and
in warmer subtropical and Mediterranean climates, where they can be grown in winter and provide excellent fodder while allowing double-cropping.
There has been a very considerable increase in oat growing in the subtropics where, previously, oats was a minor crop (they are traditional in the Mediterranean zone), in two main areas.
In the southern cone of south America vast areas of oats are now being grown as fodder and cover crops during winter.
In subtropical and temperate Asia, especially in the north of the subcontinent, oats have changed from a minor crop of Government farms to one of the most important winter fodders in an almost entirely smallholderrun agriculture - largely through the introduction of better, multicut, cultivars; attention to seed supply; and strong demand from the dairy industry. The pattern in China seems to be slightly different where "In southern subtropical paddy areas, farmers use fallow paddy field to grow Lolium multiflorum .... This farming system has been extended to more than 2 000 000 ha in southern subtropical paddy areas." (Hu and Zhang, 2003). Ryegrass is suited to many of the other countries in the zone, but requires more careful husbandry and can pose problems of seed supply.
Oats are a simple crop to grow, or perhaps their cultivation is similar to that of wheat and barley, which are major crops in climates suitable for oats; techniques and equipment for wheat also suit oats. Each zone and farming system has adopted the methods that best suit it - from the simplest hand cultivation on small farms in developing countries to up-to-date mechanized systems in areas of large-scale farming. They are an excellent smallholder crop. Seed rates vary from country to country, and fertilizer practice are largely dependent on soils. A less usual method of growing oats, in areas of mild winters, is sod-seeding them into winter-dormant pastures in autumn. Sowing dates are also dependent on the climate, on the cropping pattern when two crops are taken yearly, and when the forage is needed - or when weather is likely to suit haymaking. The place of fodder oats in rotations varies, but in cereal-growing zones they are a useful break crop.
Oats are sometimes mixed with other forages, but mixtures seem to be rarer than pure-stand oats, probably because oat-legume mixtures are often more difficult to manage. The aim of the mixture may be to improve the overall quality of the forage or to prolong the production season. In mixture with scandent legumes such as peas or vetch, oats serve to support the legume and decrease harvesting losses. In North America, spring oats are mixed with winter cereals to give relay production - a silage cut followed by grazing. In Pakistan, oats at low seed rates are an excellent mixture with berseem since the cereal supplies early fodder as well as continuing to produce in the coldest weather, and then the clover takes over as temperatures rise in spring; a case where an oat-legume mixture fits a multicut situation since berseem is noted for its ability to recover after cutting. Oats+berseem is also used in the Mediterranean region.
Wheat, barley, rye and triticale are all used as fodder, but, in general, oats are a superior crop. Barley has an advantage on saline soils and in drought-prone areas, but these are not major fodder-growing situations. Rye is hardy and tolerates poor soils and grazes well. Wheat is used as an emergency winter feed in smallholder situations in Asia but, as the Pakistan chapter shows, oats produce more and better fodder. In mild oceanic climates, Italian ryegrass is a serious competitor, but requires better seedbed preparation and occupies the land much longer; in smallholder situations, ryegrass seed production or supply may present problems.
Grazing is probably a less common form of using fodder oats than cutting for conservation or green feed, but it is nevertheless widespread. Much depends on farm size, management systems, soil and climate. There can be considerable wastage, especially if the land is wet.
Grazing young oats (and other winter- growing cereals) and later harvesting the crop for grain has a long history and was probably commonest in the Mediterranean zone. Now, in addition to the traditional zone, grazing young oats and then growing them on for grain is reported from other areas of mild winters: Australasia, and the milder parts of the USA and South America. Young oats intended for grain should be grazed lightly and before stem elongation. Swath grazing, where oats are mown and windrowed in autumn to be grazed through the snow, is an interesting development in areas with snowy winters.
On small farms in developing countries, cut-and-carry is almost universal for all fodders; holdings are small and usually unfenced. Cutting causes less damage to the oats than does grazing, so multicut varieties have been taken up enthusiastically by smallholders.
There is general agreement that, in suitable climates, oats are well suited to haymaking, and oat hay is traded in large quantities both within and between countries. The importance of this trade is shown by specialized hay cultivars being developed in Australia for the South-East Asia hay trade. Oats ensile well for on-farm use. Oat straw is a valuable feed resource, more palatable to stock and more nutritious than the straw of wheat or barley; in addition to being used onfarm, it is traded to feed lots in some countries.
Most work on oat diseases has been carried out on oats for grain, with fodder oats relatively neglected despite often serious damage. The disease situation may be becoming potentially more serious as oat areas expand in mild, subtropical climates. The main control will have to be through breeding for disease resistance, allied with careful crop husbandry.
Good cultivars are the basis for crop improvement. Fodder oat varieties have generally been a by-product of breeding for grain, and the few specialized fodder oat breeders are working with modest resources. In most countries, hulled, hexaploid oats are the basis of most forage cultivars; in many cases both Avena sativa and A. byzantina may be involved in a cultivars ancestry. A. strigosa, which formerly was a minor cereal of poor soils, is now grown on a vast scale in the Southern Cone of South America. Naked oats are not prominent as fodder and, in China, as reported in Chapter VIII, imported hulled cultivars are displacing indigenous naked types in their traditional homeland. Only some countries have fodder oat breeding programmes and, where it is being done, it seems to suffer from underfunding and the general move away from government support for agricultural research. Most oat breeders are mature and there is a scarcity of young breeders coming forward as replacements. Access to improved cultivars and to germplasm may be a problem in some countries: government departments in developing countries can not always afford to purchase rights to registered cultivars. Tightening of quarantine regulations in Australasia may make access to germplasm from outside the zone more difficult.
Since oats are a cereal crop, there are few technical problems in producing seed. Seed supply is not a problem in areas of large-scale farming. In countries where farming, and especially stock-raising, is mainly by smallholders, however, there are often problems in bulking and marketing improved fodders, oats included. Often good, adapted cultivars are available in small quantities on research stations, but the means are lacking to get these bulked to sufficient quantities so that they are available for widespread farm use. The problem is more serious for fodders than for other field crops; fodder seed production is often neglected by government agencies, perhaps more so in countries where fodder is the responsibility of livestock departments. Pakistan tackled this problem in the early 1990s by encouraging the larger farmers and seed companies to handle fodder seeds and by making mother seed of adapted cultivars available to them (Chapter VII, and Bhatti and Khan, 1996); seed supply was no longer dependent on departmental budgets and good material has become readily available. In China, oats are widely used as fodder and nowadays transhumant herders on the Tibet-Qinghai plateau (Figure 13.1) are being encouraged to sow oats in the pens (Figure 13.2) where sheep are kept in winter; the thermal growing season in the herding areas is too short for seed production, so a large seed base has been established in lower, agricultural areas. Farms in Qinghai are very small family units but seed production has been organized in one suitable county, with the capacity to produce more than 5000 t of oat seed annually.
Sheep on the move in Qinghai, China
Oats for winter feed (hay) being grown in a sheep pen, Qinghai, China
Oat seed production base, to supply seed for use on the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau, China
The organization of seed production is simple, and a good model. Suitable cultivars are identified through ongoing testing by research institutions, which supply the breeders seed; a government Grassland Station bulks seed (Figure 13.3) of the recommended cultivars and supplies it to a commercial seed company; the seed company organizes production by contracting farmers; inspection is by the Grassland Station; and marketing is by the company.
Fodder oat production must be part of improving livestock production. In general, the two components are well integrated at farm level but, in the South America studies, the areas growing oats mainly as winter ground cover are distant from stock-rearing zones. In many areas of smallholder farming there is a need for improvement of both the stock and their veterinary cover; increased use of sown fodder means a change from a very low external input system to one where inputs have to be paid for, so stock with greater potential are needed.
This section does not attempt to summarize all the conclusions that can be drawn from the preceding chapters, but some important conclusions are that:
fodder oats continue to have an important place in situations where they have an ecological advantage, and should be encouraged for winter grazing in mild climates; in cold zones with short growing seasons; and in climates suitable for making oat hay;
oats have become a very important cover crop in some systems, but this is not well integrated with livestock production;
more attention and resources are needed for the development of oat cultivars specifically intended for fodder: grazing, cutting, hay or silage; it is necessary to attract young breeders to fodder oat work and to fund them;
for smallholders, assuring access to seed of improved cultivars is very important; this involves producing seed of acceptable quality, and marketing it so that it is within easy reach of farmers;
extension efforts should be intensified, in particular by extension services in countries where the main oat growers are smallholders, to make sure that farmers are aware of new, adapted cultivars, with emphasis on where oats can fit into the cropping and livestock system; provision of livestock services is also necessary, and extension should focus on zones where milk can be readily marketed; and
there is a need to re-examine the collection of statistics on oat areas since the recent expansion of oats for fodder; for example, vast areas in South America are not being reflected, certainly in FAO statistics.