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Extensive trials show Spring Oats needn’t be styled a Cinderella crop

Variety Lion yielded well and had the lowest hulling losses in 2022 Spring Oat trial confirms agronomist Brin Hughes

Following four years of intensive trials aimed at improving the yield and quality of Spring Oats, agronomist Brin Hughes, of Richardson Milling (UK) Limited, confirms that they should no longer be unkindly referred to as a Cinderella crop.

Working for Richardson since 2016, Brin began the trial work in 2018, assessing Spring Oat yield outcomes based on a range of criteria including manipulating sowing dates, seed rates, inputs, and growing conditions. The work has attracted attention from several like-minded companies, including German seed breeder Saaten Union, who partnered Richardson on the 2022 Spring Oats trial at Cowlinge in Suffolk.

Brin says “We have compiled a lot of valuable data on Spring Oats. As a miller, we want growers to achieve higher yields – however, quality is also key. Lower screening losses, higher specific weights, and lower hulling losses – ideally below 30%, are also critical for a successful crop.


Photo of Brin Hughes
Brin Hughes of Richardson Milling (UK) Limited.

“On the 2022 trial we assessed four varieties that we believe have good milling potential: Lion, Asterion, WPB Isabel and Merlin. All were drilled as a second cereal following Winter wheat into an Autumn ploughed seedbed with each variety sown at seed rates of 200, 300 and 400 seeds m2 on three separate sowing dates: the 28th of February, 15th of March and 15th of April.

“Despite the hot, dry conditions of late Spring and Summer, all varieties performed well with early drilling again being the driving factor in achieving both higher yields and lower screening losses across all varieties. The yield decrease from the February 28th drilling slot to the March 15th date averaged 0.96t/ha, with the overall decrease from the earliest to latest sowing date a massive 4.33t/ha average across all varieties.

“Although its arguable that the April 15th sowing date wasn’t favoured by last year’s dry weather, we’ve observed the same trend towards higher yields from earlier sowing dates in previous years so this was not a one-off result.

“Our four-year data shows that if growers are able to drill Spring Oats in February or early March at a low-medium seed rate they will often achieve a higher yield and lower screening losses than a crop drilled in April at a high seed rate.

“On hulling losses, arguably the single most important quality criteria for millers, the variety Lion showed the lowest hulling losses in the trial, regardless of sowing date or seed rate. The variety recorded a 1% lower loss than the next best variety. However – it’s important to stress that even a 1% loss is significant to millers” concludes Brin.

Lion Sping Oats in trial field
The 2022 Saaten Union UK Richardson Spring Oats trial was held at Cowlinge in Suffolk

Working alongside Brin on the 2022 trial, Saaten Union UK Cereal Product Manager Andrew Creasy also recognises the need for more detailed research into Spring Oats and agrees that their unfavourable comparison to a Disney character who suffers neglect is misleading. Says Andrew

“Saaten Union is a dedicated Oat breeder with several varieties on the UK Recommended list. Growers who drill early into a good seedbed and fine tune their inputs can readily achieve yields of over 8t/ha. It’s also significant that the AHDB published a paper this year which confirmed that Winter Oats was the third most cost-effective crop based on gross margins.

“Although it’s fair to say Winter Oats are still slightly ahead of their Spring counterpoint, they do have a restricted choice of inputs. Spring Oats are also a better break crop, particularly on farms where blackgrass is an issue, and generally have greater benefits to the overall rotation. On Spring Oats, end market quality has often been the missing link which makes the opportunity to work closely with millers such as Richardson so valuable.

“All varieties in the trial performed well with our variety Lion, marketed in the UK by our partner Elsoms Seeds, outyielding all other varieties at the 300 seed rate with a total yield of just over 8t/ha when sown early between Feb 1st and March 15th. On quality, as Brin confirmed, it also achieved the lowest hulling losses, as it has in earlier trials conducted by Richardson, so its milling quality has always been excellent.

“The 2022 trial showed that Lion is early maturing, a useful asset for growers looking to bring their harvest date forward, and potentially high yielding when sown early at an optimum seed rate of 300 seeds m2. If growers require high yielding varieties for the feed market, then other SU varieties such as Delfin or Canyon would be a better choice” concludes Andrew. 

Download the Lion tech sheet by clicking here