Index | Search | Home

new crop Logo

Avena sativa L.

Common oats

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Oats are cultivated for the grain, as source of protein, for hay, as winter cover, and are used as a pasture crop in the growing or 'milk' stage. Oats are used for cereals, as rolled oats, in cakes, biscuits and other pastries, for making oat flour which is not considered suitable for making bread, and as a source of an oil. Oat straw is used as emergeny fodder, but mostly for bedding purposes because of its excellent absorbent qualities. Oats are popular because a stand is sure, suitable in rotation, gives high quality straw, and has many uses. Currently, the major end products of oats are (1) rolled or flaked oats,(2) furfural, and furans, and (3) antioxidants. Additional products are oat flour, feeding oatmeal, hulls and groats. Crushed oats are excellent for ruminants, and are the standard cereal in horse feed. They contain too much fiber to be the chief concentrate in pig rations. Up to 30% good ground oats is used for growing chickens, up to 50% for laying hens. The magnesium helps prevent perosis in chickens. Although the hulls are of limited value in animal feed (almost valueless for cattle). Still coarsely ground oat hulls and oat feed are reported to prevent gastric ulcers in swine. Oat hulls are basic in production of furfural, a chemical intermediate in the production of many industrial products (e.g. nylon, lubricating oils, butadiene, phenolic resin glues, and rubber tread compositions). Oats hulls supply about 22% of the required furfural raw materials. Rice hulls, corn cobs, bagasse, and beech woods make up much of the remainder. Less importantly, oats hulls are also used in the manufacture of construction boards, cellulose pulp, broiler litter, and as a filter in breweries. Oat flour produced in the dry-milling operation currently is used as an antioxidant in food products. Oat flour inhibits rancidity and increases the length of shelf-stability of milk, milk products, bacon, frozen fish, and vegetable oils. Oats have several other potential applications: protein concentrate foods, texturized vegetable proteins, vegetable gums, infant and geriatric foods, sweeteners, cosmetic preparations, cariostats, pharmaceuticals, adhesives, and abrasives (Schrickel and Scantland, 1981). Oatmeal concentrate is one source of plant derived drugs in the US. Extract of oat straw prevents feeding by the striped cucumber beetle.

Folk Medicine

An alcoholic extraction of oats has been reported to be a deterrent for smoking. Reports that oat extract helped correct the tobacco habit were disproven by Bye et al (1974). The seeds are folk remedies for tumors. The seed contain the antitumor compound b-sitosterol. Tincture of the plant has been used as a nerve stimulant and to treat opium addiction. Various folk cultures consider the oat as antispasmodic, antitumor, cyanogenetic, demulcent, diuretic, nervine, neurotonic, stimulant, tonic and vulnerary (Duke and Wain, 1981). Oats have been suggested in folk remedies for cancer, dyspepsia, egilops, gastroenteritis, gout, hepatosis, insomnia, neurosis, paralysis, parotitis, parturition, psoriasis, rheumatism, spasms, tumors, but other oat species may be involved. In an article riddled with errors, the Globe (February 28, 1984) reports that oat straw, usually taken as a tea, is a sexual nerve tonic.


Per 100 g, the mature seed is reported to contain 374 calories, 11.0 g H20, 13.1 g protein, 6.1 g fat, 67.4 g total carbohydrate, 5.8 g fiber, 2.4 g ash, 59 mg Ca, 425 mg P, 4.6 mg Fe, 10 mg Na, 0.35 mg thiamine, 0.09 mg riboflavin, and 2.2 mg niacin. Generically, oat grains, with 78.7–95.2% DM (mean of 1650 cases = 89.1), contain on a zero moisture basis, 7.4–23.2% CP (mean = 13.3), 1.1–9.7% EE (mean = 5.1), 1.0–28.9% CF (mean = 12.0), 1.6–9.6% ash (mean = 4.1), 56.2–76.2% NFE (mean = 65.5), 0.04–0.48% Ca (mean = 0.11), 0.05–1.02% P (mean = 0.39), 0.22–0.89% K (mean = 0.42), 0.03–0.29% Mg, (mean = 0.19), 0.002–0.03% Fe (mean of 88 cases = 0.008), 2.4–25.7 ppm Cu (mean of 73 cases = 6.6), 20–204 ppm Mn (mean of 199 cases 43), 0.15–0.31% S (mean of 15 cases = 0.23%), 0.01–0.06% Na (mean of 18 cases 0.07), 0.05–0.19% Cl (mean of 19 = 0.11%), 0.000–0.146% Co (mean of 19 cases 0.029%), 2.6–12.1 ppm thiamine (mean of 125 = 7), 0.7–11.7 ppm riboflavin (mean of 137 = 1.8), 4.4–28.4 ppm panothenic acid (mean of 99 cases = 14.5), 5.9–44.0 ppm niacin (mean of 109 cases = 17.8), 0.2–2.4 ppm pyridoxine (mean of 23 = 1.3), 755–1712 ppm choline (mean of 59 cases = 1206), and 0.0–0.22 ppm carotene. 0.00–0.75 ppm folic acid (mean of 30 cases = 0.33), 0.13–1.41 ppm biotin (mean of 25 cases = 0.33 ppm), 4.4–10.1 ppm a-tocopherol (mean of 10 cases = 6.6 ppm) (Miller, 1958). Oats are especially rich in the limiting amino acid lysine, running about 4%, compared to ca 3% in other cereals. While oats average about 17% protein, ARS scientists screening thousands of samples of cultivated and wild species, found that the wild species averaged 27% with some ranging up to 37% (Anon, Agricultural Research 20(3):2. 1973). Generically, oat hay (73.5–96.0% DM) contains, on a zero-moisture basis, 4.4–17.3% CP (mean of 182 cases = 9.2%), 1.9–6.1% EE (mean of 168 = 3.1), 19.4–38.1% CF (mean of 170 = 31.0), 2.2–12.0% ash (mean of 180 = 7.5), 39.9–58.0% NFE (mean 49.2%), 0.13–0.40% Ca (mean of 34 = 0.26), 0.15–0.43% P (mean of 33 = 0.24), 0.20–2.41% K (mean of 17 0.97), 0.16–1.48% Mg (mean of 12 = 0.29), 0.018–0.056 Fe (mean of 11 = 0.053%), 27.7–168.1 ppm Mn (mean of 22 = 74.6), 4.4 ppm Cu, 0.13–0.20% Na (mean of 5 cases 0.17), 0.46–0.57% Cl (mean of 5 = 0.52), and 0.46–0.086 ppm Co (mean of 3 = 0.068 ppm), 3.3–4.0 ppm thiamine (mean of 3 = 3.5), 5.3–26.0 ppm riboflavin (mean of 10 = 10.1 ppm), and 2.6–346.3 ppm carotene (mean of 28 cases = 100.8 ppm). Oat hulls, averaging 92.6% DM, averages 4.1% CP, 1.4% EE, 32.4% CF, 6.6% ash, 55.5% NFE, 0.10% Ca, 0.11% P, 0.01% Fe, 3.3 ppm Cu, 20.0 ppm Mn. Oat straw (as opposed to hay, averaging 90.1% DM, averages 4.4% CP, 21.1% EE, 41.0% CF, 8.2% ash, 44.3% NFE, 0.33% Ca, 0.10% P, 2.44% K, 0.18% Mg, 0.019% Fe, 10.1 ppm Cu, 39.2 ppm Mn, 0.24% S, 0.37% Na, 0.78% Cl (Miller, 1958). Containing 32–36% pentosans, 35% cellulose, and 10–15% lignin, oat hulls are a good source of furfural. Furfural is used in making fungicides, disinfectants, and preservatives. Avenin, an alkaloid isolated from the pericarp, stimulates mammal neuromuscular systems. Saponins have also been reported. Nitrates may be dangerously high. Oats may cause photodermatitis. Experimentally the plants show hypoglycemic activity. On a zero moisture basis, the fresh hay (2 mos.) (11.0% DM) contains 18.2% CP, 28.2% CF, 14.5% ash, 3.6% EE, 35.5% NFE; the hay (from Chile) (87.1% DM) contains 7.1% CP, 30.9% CF, 4.9% ash, 1.9% EE, 55.2% NFE; the straw contains 5.3% CP, 38.0% CF, 10.2% ash, 1.4% EE, and 45.1% NFE (Gohl, 1981). Trigonelline, colamine, choline, tyrosine, L(-)-leucine, L(+)-isoleucine, (-)threonine, L(-)-asparaginic acid, cystine, lysine, histidine, arginine, glycine, methionine, valine, phenylalanine, tryptophane, oxylysine, avenin, saponin, vitamin B1, B2, B6, pantothenic acid, nicotinic acid, vitamin K1,. haematin, phytin, flavone, acovenoside A, 3-0-1-[a-L-rhamnosyl-(I->4)-B-D-glucopyanosyl-(1->2)-B-D-glucopyanasyl]-nutigenin, acovenoside B, b-sitosterol, stigmastadienol, cholesterol, brassicasterol, campestrol, and stigmasterol are listed in Hager's Handbook (List and Horhammer, 1969–1979).


Erect tufted annual grass, to 1.2 m tall; culms smooth or scabrous beneath the panicle; leaves 15–30 cm long, 0.6–1.2 cm wide, sheaths long and loose; panicle terminal, 15–30 cm long; spikelets usually 2-flowered, to 2.5 cm long, slender-pedicelled; glumes, several-nerved; lemma glabrous, teeth acute, dorsal awn absent or 1 to a floret, short; kernel 0.6–0.8 cm long, narrow, with nearly parallel sides, hairy, grooved lengthwise on the face,tightly enclosed (in inrolled lemma which also covers the palea on the front.


Reported from the Mediterranean, Near East, and China-Japan Centers of Diversity, common oat or cvs thereof is reported to tolerate aluminum, disease, frost, fungus, herbicide, hydrogen floride, high pH, low pH, mycobacteria, nematode, rust, SO2, smut, and virus. About 150 cvs are grown commercially in the United States, with many more developed elsewhere in the world. Cultivars are selected for resistance to black-stem rust, crown rusts and smuts; some cvs are hull-less, others give poor yields or present storage problems; most cvs are grouped as winter or spring oats. Some better known cvs are: 'Albion', 'Bart', 'Culberson', 'Fulham', 'Golden Rain', 'Kherson', 'Red Rustproof' and 'Sixty Day'. (2n = 42, 48, 63)


Oats are only known as a cultigen, of uncertain origin, but known to Lake Dwellers of Europe. They are now cultivated throughout the temperate zones of the Old and New Worlds. Oats are believed to be derived chiefly from two species, wild oat (A. fatua L.) and wild red oat (A. sterilis L.).


Ranging from Boreal Moist to Rain through Tropical Very Dry to Dry Forest Life Zones, common oat is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 2 to 18 dm (mean of 151 cases = 7.7) annual temperature of 5 to 26°C (mean of 151 cases = 12.0) and pH of 4.5 to 8.6 (mean of 128 cases = 6.4). Oats are long-day plants, grown in cool climate in the Old and New World temperate zones variable conditions. They thrive on a wide range of soils of ample, but not excessive, fertility. Well-drained neutral soils in regions where annual rainfall is 7.7 dm or more are best. Loam soils are best, especially silt and clay loams. Hot dry weather just before heading causes heads to blast and yields of seed to decrease. Oats usually are not very winter hardy, although winter hardy cvs have been developed.


Well treated viable seed will give 80–90% germination. Seed is broadcast or drilled in well-prepared clean seedbeds at rate of 180–200 kg/ha in the spring in northern regions, or in the fall in more southern regions of the temperate zone. Under dry land conditions in the subtropics a seed rate of 30–70 kg/ha is recommended, and under irrigation only 50–80 kg/ha. No tillage is necessary after sowing. Although soils are often unfertilized, in the United States and Great Britain application of a complete fertilizer (NPK, 12-12-12) with a light top dressing of nitrogen is beneficial in cold wet springs. In some areas only phosphates are needed. Manure is usually added to crops preceding in rotation. For fall oats, soils are often given an application of 100–150 kg/ha superphosphate at seeding, followed in February or March with a top dressing of 50–75 kg of sodium nitrate, 25–40 kg ammonia nitrate, or well-decayed manure as substitute for nitrogen. Oats are good in rotation with corn, or red clover. Sowing and harvesting dates for various areas of the world are: Argentina (June–Aug.; Nov.–Jan.); Brazil (Mar.–July; June–Dec.); Chile (Mar.–Apr.; Feb.–Mar.); New Zealand (Sept.–Oct.; Feb.–Mar.); South Africa (May–July; Nov.–Dec.); United States (North, Apr.–May; Oct.–Nov.; South, Feb.–Mar.; Aug.–Sept.); Europe (Feb.– May; Aug.–Oct.).


Oats are harvested when grain is in the hard dough stage and straw is slightly green (when the moisture content of the grain is 14% or less). If too ripe, shattering causes seed loss. Crop is usually cut with binder and left in the field until dry and then threshed. In mechanized societies, oats are combined directly from standing grain. For this type of harvesting, crop must be fully ripe, usually when the straw has lost greenness and glumes have become white. Crop may be combined from windrow, or cut with a header harvester when the crop is dead ripe. Seeds are threshed and cleaned by winnowing, and artificially dried to below 14% moisture for storage.

Yields and Economics

Annual world production of oats has dropped from about 90 million MT to 50 million MT, the U..S. growing ca 20% of the world total. In 1977, the U.S. planted 7,202,000 ha, and harvested 5,440,000 ha, for an average yield of 2 MT/ha and a production of 10,858,000 MT. Arkansas showed the highest yield per ha, 2 1/2 MT, while Kentucky was lowest with 1 1/4 MT. In 1977, North America produced 15,233,000 MT (1.99 MT/ha), South America 636,000 (1.2 MT/ha), Western Europe 10,218,000 (2.72 MT/ha), Eastern Europe 4,251,000 (2.23 MT/ha), USSR 18,379,000 (and increasing, 1.41 MT/ha), Africa 117,000 (0.19 MT/ha), Asia 1,923,000 (1.1 MT/ha), and Oceania 1,058,000 (0.91 MT/ha). The value of oats in 1977 averaged only $78.60/MT, but the value of the oat grains accounted for only 60% of the total crop value, the straw for 17%, pasture 17% and forage materials 6%. Although the world average for 1977 was only 1.7 MT/ha, much higher yields are obtained experimentally. Energy calculations are better based on the lower production figures than the higher experimental yields. Hay yields may exceed 20 MT/ha in irrigated situations, 10 MT rainfed.


The world's low production yield in 1979 was 208 kg/ha in Tunisia, while international production yield was 1,604 kg/ha, and the world high was 5,230 kg/ha in the Netherlands. The residue coefficient, defined as the ratio of the weight of dry matter of residue to recorded harvested weight ranges from 0.95 to 1.75, the upper limit determined by USDA experts. Residues are interpreted as straw plus an additional factor of 0.25 for chaff (NAS, 1977). According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), annual productivity ranges from 0 to 9 MT/ha, but Schoner et al (1982) report average hay yields of 10 MT/ha for 'Cayuse' oats during 6 years testing under California dry farming conditions. In irrigated trials, 'Cayuse' averaged closer to 20 MT ha/ha, with a maximum more than 23 MT; 'Swan' averaged 18, 'Sierra' averaged 19, 'California Red' averaged 16, and 'Montezuma' 16. Schrinkle and Scantland (1981) calculate that the ratio (energy output/energy input) is 5.15 in west central Minnesota, but only 1.72 in southeast U.S. Weaver's (1980) gives surprisingly similar calculations, an output/input ratio of 5.12 in Minnesota, 4.71 in South Dakota, 3.68 in Texas, and 2.50 in southeast U.S. Texas inputs include 5.18 hr labor, machinery equivalent of 220,140 kcal/ha, gasoline 272,430, diesel 403,142, nitrogen 988,722, phosphorus 201,780, potassium 53,808, seed, 358,720, insecticide 55,950, and transportation 38,948, for a total input of 2,593,640 kcals/ha with oat yields of 2,511 kg/ha equivalent to 9,541,952 kcal/ha (Weaver, 1980). Research reiterated by Palz and Chartier (1980) indicated that straw from winter wheat, summer wheat, winter barley, summer barley, winter rye, and oats all gave calorific values based on moisture-free dry matter of 17.04 ( 5%) MJ/kg, or based on air dry matter 15.06 ( 3.5%) MJ/kg. High N fertilization raised calorific values by ca 425 KJ/kg. Increasing moisture content from 14 to 20% reduced calorific value by 9%. Since straw available as feedstock is normally air-dry, a calorific value of 15 MJ/kg is assumed by Palz and Chartier (1980) for all cereal varieties and species. The assumed grain straw ratio for:
wheat is 1.23
barley is 1.45
oats is 1.16
rye is 0.70
other cereals is 1.10
Elsewhere Palz and Chartier assume 17.5 MJ/kg as the typical energy value for the dry matter of herbaceous materials.

Biotic Factors

Self-pollination is normal, but cross-pollination by wind also occurs. For seed, different varieties should be isolated about 180 m apart. Oats should not be followed by another cereal crop, especially rye or oats. Seed crop is taken in second year in temperate regions. Following fungi are known to attack oats: Alternaria sp., Aphanomyces camptostylus, Ascochyta graminicola, Botrytis cinerea, Cercosporella herpotrichoides (resistant), Cladosporium graminum, Claviceps purpurea (Ergot), Colletotrichum graminicola, Erysiphe graminis, Fusarium avenaceum, F. culmorum, F. graminearum, F. moniliforme, F. oxysporum, F. pose, F. roseum, F. scirpi, Fusicladium destruens, Giberella zeae, Helminthosporium avenae (Stripe disease), H. sativum, H. victoriae, Heterosporium avenae, Leptosphaeria avenaria, Marasmius tritici, Pholiota praecox, Phyllosticta avenophila, Polymyxa graminis, Pseudodiscosia avenae, P. striaefaciens, Puccinia coronata, P. graminis, P. rubigo-vera, Pyrenochaeta terestris, Pyrenophora avenae, Pythium debaryanum, P. aristosporum, P. irregulare, P. rostratum, P. ultimum, Rhizoctonia solani, Sclerospora macrospora, Sclerotium rolfsii, Scoloectrichum graminis, Septoria tritici, Ustilago avenae (Loose smut), Wojnowicia graminis. But instead of overwhelming you with such a long list, I should have merely listed the primary diseases of oats in the U.S., in order of importance: (1) Yellow Dwarf Virus or Redleaf, (2) Leaf or Crown Rust (Puccinia coronate), (3) Septoria Leaf Spot (Septoria avenae), (4) Stem Rust (Puccinia graminis), (5) Halo Blight (Pseudomonas coronafaciens), (6) Loose Smut (Ustilago avenae), Covered Smut (Ustilago levis) (Schricker and Scantland, 1981). Oats are parasitized by Cuscuta spp. and attacked by the bacterium, Pseudomonas coronafaciens. Some physiological ailments of oats are: Red-Leaf, Gray speck because of manganese deficiency, Blast due to high temperatures and drought, and Crazy top, of unknown cause. A large number of nematodes attack oats, some varieties are resistant to the following: Ditylenchus dipsaci, Heterodera avenae, H. punctata, H. major, H. rostochiensis, Meloidogyne chitwoodi, M. incognita, M. acrita, M. javanica, M. naasi, Pratylenchus alleni and P. minyus. Other nematodes isolated from oats include: Anguina tritici, Aphenlenchoides parietinus, A. avenae, Belonalaimus gracilis, Criconemella curvata, Ditylenchus dipsaci, D. radicicola, D. intermedium, Dorylaimus sp., Helicotylenchus dihystera, H. erythrinae, H. pseudoorbustus, Panagrolaimus rigidus, Paraphelenchus pseudoparietinus, Pratylenchus crenatus, P. hexincisus, P. neglectus, P. penetrans, P. pratensis. Psilenchus spp., Rotylenchus erythrinae, R. robustus, Trichodurus christiei, Tylenchulus hordei, R. devastatrix, Tylenchorhynchus acutus, T. brevidens, T. claytoni, T. dubius, T. marcrurus, T. maximus, Xiphinema americanum. Some insect pests are: Stink bug (Chlorochroa sayi), Aster leaf-hopper (Macrosteles fascifrons), European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis), Armyworm (Pseudauletes unipuncta), Cereal leaf-miner (Syringopais temperatella) and Bluegrass billbug (Sphenophorus parvulus).


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update December 29, 1997