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by Andrew Wilkinson, staff writer, Milling and Grain Magazine

ats are a hardy cereal grain able

to withstand poor soil conditions
in which other crops are unable to
thrive. Although oats, or Aveena
Sativa to give the Latin name, are
more commonly eaten in the form
of oatmeal or rolled oats, they
also offer a vast array of other
uses; from use as an ingredient
in baked goods to use as a treatment for skin complaints. Oats
have also found fame in recent years as a health food and are
widely believed to be able to help combat a whole raft of serious
ailments such as heart disease and diabetes.
Although the crop is considered to be very resilient, a great deal
of thought and planning is still required to ensure that the best
quality product is delivered from seed to spoon. The very first
stage of this journey involves the tending of the soil and seed


When planting oats, the ground is prepared immediately after

the previous crop has been harvested, which is usually during the
late summer months time. The soil is then ploughed, a process
which vastly reduces the risk of cross contamination of seed from
the previous crop.
Once the soil has been prepared, the seed is then sown. Once
the seeds have been fully planted, the crop will then need to be
tended right up until maturity.


The biggest problem when tending oats is weeds. To prevent

the spread of weeds, a pre-emergent herbicide is applied within a
week of sowing the field. The crop is then continually monitored
for any pests and diseases. The soil is also tested every four to
five years to ascertain the nutrient level. The results of the tests
are then used to apply fertiliser, which provides the right amount
of nutrients that the oats require. This stage is facilitated on
some farms with the use of satellite navigation technology that
steers the tractor in a perfectly straight line, thus saving time and
ensuring even coverage.
When spring arrives, nitrogen is then applied to the crop with
the help of a nitrogen sensor mounted on a tractor, which can
calculate how much nitrogen the crop needs. It then adjusts
the application rates accordingly, in real time, as the tractor
and spreader is moving through the crop. This new technology
improves the efficiency of nitrogen application; so only what is
needed is used. Once the crop has fully matured, it is then ready
to be harvested.


The method that is usually used for harvesting oats is direct

60 | December 2015 - Milling and Grain

heading. This process involves the cutting of standing grain

as soon as the crop has fully ripened. If the grain moisture is
consistent throughout the crop and is less than 12 percent; then
this is considered to be the method most likely to avoid mass
shedding of grains.
Whilst direct heading is the least expensive method of
harvesting oats, the danger is that there may be long periods of
high relative humidity in which the harvesting dry grain is not
possible. This problem can cause considerable delays to the
harvesting operation and increase the risk of head loss or grain
washed out by rain. Once the matured crop has been cut, the crop
is then gathered up into swathes.


Swathing is a term used to describe the process of cutting the

oat crop and placing it in rows held together by interlaced straws
that are supported above the ground by the remaining stubble.
Swathing is considered best practice where the crop is uneven
in maturity; or the climate does not allow for rapid drying of the
grain naturally. Swathing is also ideal for where there is a risk of
crop losses from shedding and lodging.
High yielding crops may gain more from swathing than low
yielding crops. Generally, crops expected to yield less than two
tonnes per hectare should not be swathed. Picking up swathed
oats is significantly slower than direct heading because of the
large volume of material.
However, if the crop is either too thin or the stubble is too
short to support the swath above the ground, then the crop
should not be swathed. The main problem with swathing in these
circumstances is that the heads on the ground may sprout and
when attempts to pick up heads that are lying close to the soil
surface are made, the crop may become contaminated with soil.
Although it is better to swath early to prevent losses from
shedding and lodging, one should not do so when the ground
is wet after rain. Although it may be easier to swath later, the
swaths of a ripe crop may not interlock well enough to withstand
disturbance from strong wind.

Harvesting the swath

Once the crop has been swathed, the harvesting must be carried
out as soon as possible, ideally within 10 days of swathing. If
the crop is left exposed to the elements for too long too long
and subjected to long periods of wetting, the grain may sprout
and become stained. In more extreme cases the swath could also
become contaminated with bronze field beetle.
The stubble being torn out of the field during the swathing
operation is one of the major sources of contamination in swathed
oats. This usually occurs when the swather is operated at too high
a ground speed or when trying to swath when the straw is tough
due to it being cool or damp. As well as stubble contamination,
another issue that can hinder farmers when harvesting oats is

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known in the industry as lodging. In tall varieties of oats, lodging
of oats is a more common problem. Due to the heavy mat of
stems that is formed in a lodged crop, ripening can be delayed
as a result of reduced airflow, increased shading and higher soil

Storage of Oats

When destined for human consumption, correct storage of

oats is of paramount importance. Purchasers of milling oats
will generally require farmers to have a quality management
program in place. A suitable program should be able to show
that considerations had been taken prior to harvest, that all grain
handling equipment - harvester, truck, silos and augers have been
thoroughly cleaned and that all residues have been removed.
Grain stores should also be maintained and kept watertight
as water can cause mould and sprouting of grain which could
render the crop unsellable. Once the crop has been harvested,
the grain must be stored safely, effectively and efficiently. When
maintaining oat grain quality in storage, there are a number of
important factors that need to be considered.

Grain moisture

The two biggest considerations that must be taken into account

when storing oats is that they are kept both dry and free from
fungal growth. The maximum moisture content at which oats
can be safely stored is 12.5 percent unless the temperature is
reduced below 15 celsius (C). Above the safe limit, fungi may
develop and cause grain spoilage. As well as moisture, another
key consideration when storing oat grain is contamination from
insects and other pests.

Insect Contamination

For obvious reasons it is vitally important that stored grain

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does not become contaminated by an invasion of insects. Serious

infestation will usually occur within three months of harvesting,
even in cases where risk of contamination has been reduced to
an absolute minimum by application of strict hygiene guidelines
throughout the harvesting process. However, in cases where these
precautions have not been taken, insect contamination can occur
in al little as six to eight weeks. Poor hygiene can also increase
the risk of moisture problems and fungal growth.
Grain that has been infested can be cleaned up using Fumigants.
These chemicals can also be used as preventative agents in
sealed silos. Currently, the only approved fumigant for oats is
phosphine. When applying a phosphine releasing fumigant,
the silo must be sealed otherwise the treatment may not be
completely successful.
Due diligence is of vital importance throughout the harvesting
and storage process in order to ensure that the quality of
the harvest is preserved for as long as possible. As well as
contamination, another key consideration is the duration of the
grains storage.

Duration of storage

In most cases, correctly stored grain should have a shelf life of

at least 12 months. For this duration of storage to be achieved,
the initial moisture content should be lower than 12.5 percent for
longer periods of storage.
Thorough aeration is also necessary for long-term storage of
oats. Aeration helps to preserve the quality by keeping an even,
cool temperature within the storage vessel. It is also a valuable
tool for reducing the loss in grain quality caused by moisture,
grain insects and mould.
There are many considerations to take when storing oats, and each
process is required to ensure that the crop reaches the purchaser and
in turn the consumer in the best condition possible.