Genetic mapping key to halting oats decline

YORKTON, Sask. – Research scientists are working together to map oat’s genetic code.

But owing to the complex genome of the plant, Eric Jackson, a scientist with the United States Department of Agriculture, told those attending the Prairie Oat Growers Association Conference in Yorkton on Dec. 2 that the process will take time.

“The oat genome is gi-normous,” he said.

He added the work is necessary to help the plant’s breeding progress. The money spent on the molecular aspects of breeding the past 30 years haven’t gotten the industry far.

Jackson said oats’ future lies in varietal research.

To increase the value of oats, it needs to offer something unique that people want to buy.

That may mean focusing on varieties for dairy cattle, where cows fed oats have been shown to produce milk with lower soluble fats, and higher milk yields.

Oat varieties may also be developed for trout feed, where death losses to some diseases are reduced by 50 percent when fed oats, said Jackson.

To expedite the process, the oat genome needs to be better understood and that is why the Collaborative Oat Research Enterprise was launched a year ago.

It involves scientists from Canada, the United States, Australia, Scandinavia, Morocco and other countries.

Jackson compared the possibilities for oats to corn in the United States.

“Corn is in everything,” these days, while soybeans “want to be everything except what it is.”

The result is many U.S. farmers now use a corn-soybean rotation, based purely on economics associated with the crops.

To fight for acres oats must be economically viable, not just sustainable, said Jackson.

“It’s survivability of the crop.”

Jackson said in recent years, oat research has not made the necessary strides.

“What we’ve been doing the last 30 years … is managing our decline,” he said.

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