Promoting Canadian Oats


The total amount of plant nutrients removed from the soil by a crop depends on the yield – the greater the yield, the greater the amount removed.

Based on equal seed yields per unit area, whole barley, wheat and oat plants extract about the same combined quantities of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P2O5), potassium (K2O), and sulphur (S) from the soil, but considerably less than canola. When only the seed is removed, and all straw is left on the field, oats removes the least nutrients from the soil (except for sulphur) than barley, wheat or canola as the following table shows.

Nutrients Used by Crops* (kilogram per hectare)
CropCrop PartNP205K20S
Wheat Seed 79 32 21 5
(3225 kg/ha or 48 bu/ac) Straw 32 7 64 8
  Total 111 39 85 13
Barley Seed 65 24 22 5
(3225 kg/ha or 60 bu/ac) Straw 34 9 73 8
  Total 99 33 95 13
Oats Seed 58 24 17 8
(3225 kg/ha or 84 bu/ac) Straw 40 15 70 10
  Total 98 39 87 18
Canola Seed 120 57 29 21
(3225 kg/ha or 57 bu/ac) Straw 70 26 121 17
  Total 190 83 150 38
(To convert kg/ha into lb/ac, multiply by 0.89) Canola yield is extremely high, but in order to make the comparison, it was left at the same weight as the other grains.
*Source: Western Canada Fertilizer Association. Last Reviewed/Revised on January 20, 2015.


In most fields in western Canada, nitrogen is the most yield limiting nutrient. Nitrogen is an essential component of amino acids and therefore, of proteins which include nucleic acids, enzymes and chlorophyll. Deficient crops will grow poorly and produce low yields of low quality.

Nitrogen requirements are closely tied to moisture. The more moisture that is received, the higher the yield potential and the higher the requirement is for nitrogen to achieve that yield. A 3584 kg/ha (100 bushel/acre) crop of oats will require 110-131 kg/ha (97-117 lbs/acre).

Work done by Ramona Mohr and Cynthia Grant, AAFC Brandon, and William May, AAFC Indian Head, confirmed these values, concluding that optimum yields were achieved when soil + fertilizer N level were approximately 100 kg N ha (89 lbs/acre). Optimum yields were usually achieved at 40-80 kg/ha (36-71 lbs/acre) applied N.

Rates above optimum levels caused yield decreases and crop lodging. Increasing Nitrogen rates also resulted in statistically significant declines in test weight, kernel weight and the percentage of plump kernels, all detrimental crop quality measurements.

Nitrogen for organic production can be added to the soil by producing crops that are able to “fix” their own nitrogen (legume crops such as alfalfa, clovers or pulses) and working the crop residue into the soil (plow-down). Livestock manure is also a good source of nitrogen.


Phosphate is involved in the formation of all oils, sugars, starches, etc. It helps with the transformation of solar energy into chemical energy, proper plant maturation and withstanding of stress. It also effects rapid growth and root development. Response to phosphate in oats is inconsistent and often does not respond to soil test levels. Situations that may respond to phosphate fertilizers include:

  • Fields that have not received phosphate fertilizers in past 5 years
  • Fields newly broken or broken from legume forage production
  • Crops grown on fallow
  • Cold, wet soils
  • Sandy or gravelly soils

Normally, an application of 20-30 kg/ha (18-28 lbs/acre) with half this amount applied with the seed, is usually adequate to produce optimum yields.

Phosphate for organic production can be added to the soil by applying rock phosphate. However, rock phosphate has a very low solubility so is very slowly available. Therefore, it should be used as a part of a long term program. This may also include using buckwheat as a plow-down crop. Buckwheat has been shown to have the ability to accumulate phosphate and make it available following a plow-down. Livestock manure is also a very good source of phosphate.


Potassium helps in the building of protein, photosynthesis, grain quality and reduction of diseases. It also may increase straw strength. Oat response to potassium usually occurs when soil test levels are below 250 kg/ha (280 lbs/acre). Potassium deficient soils tend to be light textured (sand to sandy-loam), alkaline, carbonated and imperfectly to poorly drained in their natural state. Organic soils are also frequently deficient in potassium.

An application of 17 kg/ha (15 lbs/acre) seedrow applied potassium chloride (0-0-60) may offer benefits in cold, wet soils – even when soil test levels are sufficient, may result in a crop response. Applications made at levels higher that 20 kg/ha (18 lbs/acre) should be side-banded or broadcasted to avoid damage to seedling plants.

Potassium for organic production can be added from a number of sources including some sources of potassium sulphate. This will also add sulphur to the soil. Other sources include wood ash and greensand (glauconite). Livestock manure is also a very good source of potassium.


Sulphur is essential for production of protein and oil. It promotes activity and development of enzymes and vitamins as well as helping in chlorophyll formation. Oats require sulphur in a fairly high level in comparison to other crops. It is required at lower levels that canola but about the same per acre levels as wheat. Deficiencies appear similar to nitrogen deficiencies as pale, stunted plants. Often sulphur deficiencies appear as isolated spots in a field due to extreme variability across a field. This may also result in misleading results from soil tests if a high-sulphate area is inadvertently sampled.

An application of 10-18 kg/ha (9–15 lbs/acre) of a sulphate fertilizer will be sufficient in most soils, especially if a part of a well balanced sulphur program. Applications of elemental sulphur may not provide adequate levels of sulphur, especially if applied in the seed-row.

Sulphur for organic production can be added from a number of sources including some sources of potassium sulphate. This will also add potassium to the soil. Other sources include gypsum (calcium sulphate)and some sources of elemental sulphur. Livestock manure may be a good source of sulphur.


There are a number of nutrients classified as micro-nutrients that are essential to plant growth. Where deficient, these may cause a reduction in crop production. Normally, these will not be deficient in western Canadian soils.

Of these, oats is most susceptible to a deficiency of Manganese. Manganese deficiencies mainly occur on organic soils, high-pH soils or sandy soils low in organic matter. A manganese deficiency in oats results in a disorder known as Grey Speck.

Oats show manganese deficiency as a general yellowing and stunting, occasionally with grey specks on the leaves. A foliar application of manganese will cure a manganese deficiency where it occurs.

SOIL TESTING7 soil testing man min

Soil testing should be used for determining fertilizer applications on specific fields. Where soil tests are not available, general recommendations may be followed. However, field history, cultural practices and inherent fertility of the field must be considered when using general recommendations.

RESEARCH PAPER (2004): Canadian Journal of Plant Science (2004) 84: 1025-1036

“Effect of nitrogen, seeding date and cultivar on oat quality and yield in the eastern Canadian prairies”

William E. May1, Ramona M. Mohr2, Guy P. Lafond1, Adrian M. Johnston3, and F. Craig Stevenson4.

  1. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Indian Head Research Farm
  2. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Brandon Research Centre
  3. Potash & Phosphate Institute of Canada
  4. Private Consultant

As the portion of the oat crop increases for the human consumption segment, yield and quality, especially test weight, are important production parameters for a profitable oat crop. “The grower has to strike a balance between test weight and yield when optimizing N rate because the value of the oat is a function of both grain yield and quality.”

In this study, conducted during 1998 to 2000, 4 locations were used: one in Manitoba and three in Saskatchewan. The locations were: Brandon, Indian Head, Canora and Melfort. Three seeding dates were used, early May, Mid May and early June, along with the two cultivars AC Assiniboia and CDC Pacer. The four nitrogen rates used were 15, 40, 80 and 120 kg N/ha.

Panicles per plant was the yield component that accounted for most of the yield increase achieved from increasing rates of nitrogen. Kernel weight was the yield component that decreased with increasing N. Physical seed quality tended to be highest with early seeding and low N rates.

The optimum N rate was found to involve a trade off between yield and quality.

Results from this study clearly show that to increase the probability of producers growing a profitable oat crop in the eastern Canadian prairies, seeding should occur by the middle of May with the N rate of between 40 and 80 kg/ha (~35 and 70 lbs/ac) when the residual nitrate levels in the soil range between 20 and 50 kg/ha (~18 and 44 lbs/ac). If seeding is delayed, then only 40 kg/ha N should be used to maintain oat quality.