Using oats as grazing and/ or baleage can sometimes be challenging however; in most years, oats can one of the healthiest and best options for our livestock. Some (most) years, UGA Extension gets calls concerning oats that are discolored, not growing great, or sometimes even dying. Unfortunately, there isn’t always a great answer for why. Things that can be going on with oats include disease, insects, frost or freeze damage, or general plant stress (lack of water, etc.). This year was no different. In the past four to five weeks, I have been on numerous calls concerning oats that are just not doing great. In a large portion of those calls, the oats have been reddish in appearance, stunted, and in serious situations- dying back. In this case, the oats here in Emanuel County have been significantly water stressed since planting. Add a frost to already stressed oats, we see some worrisome effects. Fortunately, this time it appears that the oats will grow out of their stress as we received roughly two inches of rain last week to correct the water stress.

To ensure you see minimal concerns, stresses, and yield reductions within your oats there are some key factors to keep in mind.

  • Oats are less winter hardy than wheat or rye and will suffer substantial yield loss when the temperature falls below 20 degrees.
  • Oat variety is very important and will affect disease resistance, winter hardiness, maturity, and yield potential.
  • Seed treatments and quality play a huge role in oat production and its success. Seed treatments are typically inexpensive and assist in protecting the seed from seed and soil borne diseases. Certified seed has been tested for germination and is typically already covered with a seed treatment. In a situation where, certified seed is not used, it is important to use quality seed and adding a seed treatment to maintain good growing conditions and disease prevention techniques.
  • Planting dates are also important in oat production. While it’s been rather mild this winter, frosts and those one or two nights of low temperatures can do a number on our oats. Oats that are in a more advanced growing stage are less susceptible to winter kill than plants that are in the seedling stage. Utilizing the prime planting dates for your area maximizes the chances of producing a good crop and minimizes loss due to winter and cold stress.
  • The first step to growing a good crop is growing a good root system. Soil testing and fertilizing accordingly will assist you in ensuring that your crop has the nutrients need to grow forage, seed, and a root system to maintain the plant.
  • Other factors to remember includes pest management. Weeds, disease, and insects can be problematic when growing oats and can lower yield and quality. Be sure to used scouting techniques, labeled products, and follow the label on those products to decide if and when treatment may be needed.

While some of our oats got off to a dry and stressful start this year, we are hopeful that we will have good growing conditions for forage production this winter. If you have questions about your forages this winter, be sure to contact your local extension agent.