Why Oats, and Not Cereal Rye or Wheat?

Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County OSU Extension

Last week in this publication we suggested that planting oats on acres that were left unplanted to corn or soybeans this spring might be utilized for growing oats which could be grazed or harvested after November 1. Since then the question has been asked why we’d encourage the planting of oats this time of year instead of cereal rye or wheat. Rye is, indeed, an alternative, but based on our experience, here’s the way we view the three forages.

If your primary need for forage is NEXT SPRING, then your best option is cereal rye. It will grow much like wheat but reach about 6 to perhaps 10 inches in height yet this summer and fall, but after going dormant this winter will give most of it’s abundant growth in the spring. It’s better than wheat because it is a little more cold tolerant, growing a little longer into fall, and breaking dormancy a little earlier in the spring than wheat. Also, there are Hessian fly issues that must be dealt with if wheat is planted before the fly free date. Although producing less tonnage than oats yet this calendar year, the cereal rye growth one could graze this fall would be very high quality feed . . . much higher in protein than oats likely would be.

If your primary need for forage is yet THIS YEAR, then oats are a better option. Spring oats do not need to go dormant in order to elongate and provide abundant growth. Instead, when planted in mid to late summer they will reach maximum height and growth in about 75+/- days after planting. By planting them after the summer solstice, they will generally remain vegetative and not make seed. Sometimes oats will push out what appears to be seed heads, but the hulls are typically hollow. In addition, oats don’t need to be chemically killed in order to plant a row crop next spring as rye would be.