Food companies that rely on supply to be impacted – granola lovers beware.
It’s interesting to see how things change over the years. Once upon a time oats was a major crop here in Wisconsin. Almost every farmer grew it as part of their crop rotation program. It’s fairly easy to grow. Most of the grain went for cattle feed, with the stalks making an excellent bedding for cattle. We used it as a cover crop as well when we planted alfalfa. Alfalfa takes quite a while to get established, so oats were planted with it. The oats grew much faster, provided a cover crop for the new alfalfa plus we’d get a fairly decent crop of oats by the end of the summer. We grew it for both cattle feed and as a seed crop.
Almost no one grows it around here now any more. If they plant small grain at all, it’s always winter wheat here. Seeing a field of oats is so rare now that when we’re driving around the state in late summer and see some it’s almost a shock.
Oats has acquired a bit of a bad reputation around here. It is susceptible to a type of fungus known as rust, which can cause serious yield losses and adversely effect the quality of the grain. During a “normal” summer it wasn’t a big problem. But it seems we don’t really have “normal” hot, dry summers any longer. While our growing season has become significantly longer up here, it has also become more humid on average.
The price of oats doesn’t help much, either. Wheat generally sells for twice as much as oats does, so there isn’t much of an incentive for farmers to keep growing it unless they are under contract to a manufacturer to produce it for food. Right now oats is selling for around $2/bushel while wheat is going for over $4. At one point earlier this fall oats was down to around $1.70.