Ag economist questions future of oats

Oats is at risk of becoming an orphan crop, said Richard Gray, agricultural economist at the University of Saskatchewan.

An orphan crop is a crop with too small an acreage footprint to garner a lot investment from either the private or public sector.

“Part of it is they (oats) are a cereal grain, and the terms of trade have been shifting against cereal over the last few years. You’re finding less acres of oats as there was in the past,” Gray said.

He said he sees resemblance of declining oat acreage to how cereal rye “went the way of the dodo bird” even though it used to be a significant crop for prairie growers.

“If the funding (for oat research) now drops off that means it will be more difficult for the crop to compete in the future because you will have continued investment in canola, wheat, and certainly in the pulse crops and soybeans,” Gray said.

He said smaller crops with weak intellectual property rights face a significant challenge gathering investment from the private sector in Canada because it is difficult to raise royalties from their development.

“Canada introduced the plant breeders rights legislation in 2015, but regulations around it to create a royalty-collection system (have) yet to be implemented,” Gray said.

“Last time I checked, all the wheat royalties (in Canada) put together are about $5 million a year. That’s not enough to begin to create a private industry around it.”

He said much more money is generated for plant breeders in countries such as Australia, which has end-point royalties, and France, which uses a uniform end-point royalty system.

He said relying on public dollars for crops with relatively low acreage can also be problematic.

“If you like public dollars supporting small crops, then you have to decide which ones you’re going to support. Are you going to support fababeans or are you going to support oats? Which one has the most growth potential? It became a challenge,” Gray said.  

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