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"Sowing Your Oats" Takes On New Meaning for Innovative Iowa Farmers

Oats are known for their hardiness but they're also a cheap source of animal feed and bedding. (Hans Braxmeier/Pixabay)
Oats are known for their hardiness but they're also a cheap source of animal feed and bedding. (Hans Braxmeier/Pixabay)
September 8, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa – Sowing one's oats has long been an expression used to describe youthful indiscretions, but increasingly Iowa farmers are discovering that the literal application of the practice yields economic and environmental benefits.

Southwest Iowa farmer Eric Madsen says the state was once a national leader in oat production and used the crop for food, animal feed and bedding.

"The move away, probably, was a result of just farmer consolidation and less livestock grown on individual small-scale farms," he posits.

In an effort to diversify, improve soil and water conservation, and add a cost-efficient third crop, farmers such as Madsen have found oats to be a natural choice. The so-called "input costs" of planting oats are less than half of what it costs to plant corn. Oats also grow exceedingly well in Iowa's climate.

Madsen is one of dozens of farmers who attended the "Rotationally Raised" Small Grains Conference hosted recently by Practical Farmers of Iowa. He notes that only two states in the nation - Iowa and Oregon - have increased harvested oat acres. For this particular part of the country, Madsen says, it's proved to be a good time to return to the historic crop.

"Oats are a very easy crop to grow, don't require a whole lot of fertility or nitrogen inputs, the seed is very, very cheap compared to corn or soybeans and herbicide costs are low to none," he explains.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports harvested oat acres in the state recently have risen from 43,000 acres to 48,000 acres. In a tough farm economy, Madsen says a diversified operation creates more income streams while protecting the environment.

Kevin Patrick Allen, Public News Service - IA