ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

From one oaty farmer to another
A reader responds to Jeff's last column with more on the benefits of oats and a few detailed questions.

Posted June 2, 2005

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our NewFarm.org readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Send it to Jeff at:
jeff.moyer@rodaleinst.org

Dear Jeff,

I enjoyed your oats article. I too am an "oaty,” as I have between one-sixth and one-fifth of my rotation in oats every year (that doesn't count the acres of oats used as cover crops). You mentioned many good things that I also love about oats, including the option to cover crop following them.

I find some additional benefits:

Planting the cover with the oats--usually clover--which will become a thick nutrient-laden mass to either plow down for a fall grain crop or leave intact until the following spring (really good for soil structure).

Reaping the soil-healing benefits of growing oats--good for structure, biology and mineral release.

Enjoying the rotational punch of oats. According to most rotational guidelines, oats are a good predecessor for any other crop (and they can follow almost any other crop…except oats).

Oats give me an opportunity to control Canada thistle patches. When they reach bud stage and are visible above the oats--usually when the oats are in the boot--I drive around the field with my tractor and rotary mower and grind them down to the ground. The thistle reserves are depleted, the clover underseed takes over, and the thistles are choked out for the year. Every season the patches get smaller. While the thistle patches look big from the road, the actual mowed acreage is usually less than 1 percent to 2 percent of a field.

My major oat frustration? The emerging organic livestock industry seems enamored of conventional livestock's corn/soy formula. Inclusion of oats in dairy, beef, swine and poultry rations would benefit the animals as well as allow organic farmers to include more marvelous oats in their rotations!

Congratulations on your oat market! It's difficult to reach that level in our neck of the woods.

(Questions follow with Jeff's answers)

Thanks for providing a good and realistic organic farmers’ resource.

Best regards,
John C. Simmons
OCIA certified organic farmer
North Branch, Michigan

 

Dear John,

I took your questions one-by-one. Hope this helps:

Q: What is a common test weight for your oat production?

A: We have been very fortunate to always have oats in the 34- to 36-pound range. Our oats are seldom the brightest since we are in a humid area. But they are clean, relatively heavy and of good overall quality.

Q: Your favorite varieties?

A: I used to plant ‘Ogle’ oats since I had seen a study from Cornell University that showed Ogle to have the highest allelopathic effect of all the varieties tested. Then I tried ‘Blaze’ oats; they yielded better and seemed to have all the agronomic qualities I was looking for, so I've been planting that variety.

Q: Yellow or white?

A: Yellow

Q: Do you save and use your own seed?

A: Not as a general rule, only because I don't have the best storage facility on-site. I do save some seed for cover cropping and to insure that I have something to plant, if for some reason I run out of seed and have a small area to plant.

Q: What is your planting rate in bu/acre?

A: As a rule I plant oats at 3 bu/acre.

Q: Does mustard give you any trouble?

A: Not in the past 8 to 10 years. It used to be more of a problem but for whatever reason I just don't see it much anymore. That being said, it will probably show up this year just to prove it's still around.

Jeff

 

Dear Jeff,

Thanks for the reply.

I've been growing Porter oats, a public variety I compared and selected almost 10 years ago. It has since been dropped from public certified seed sources as far as I know. I keep it on my farm as it seems to be one of those "uniquely and specifically adapted varieties.” It yields well and is consistently 38 pounds to 42 pounds test weight from the field. After cleaning. I've had it as high as 48 pounds. My fields had moderate mustard the past couple of years, but this year it looks extra vigorous. I hope it's just part of a long-term cycle. As for planting rates, if a field has moderate N--oats following soy for example--I'll seed four to five bushels per acre. If I've boosted the N through compost application or a heavy legume cover within 1 to 2 years, I back off to three to four bushels per acre.

After a warm dry April, May was a bit cooler and damper, but not soggy like last year. We've had enough dry days in the past two weeks that most growers have made good progress and, like myself, will finish this week if they're not already done. Small grain growth is good--but weeds are close behind.

Best regards,
John

 

Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail him directly at jeff.moyer@rodaleinst.org.