Oat (Avena L.)

Common Name: Oat

Scientific Name: Avena L.

Synonym: Avena byzantina K. Koch, Avena byzantina var. anopla Mordv., Avena diffusa var. segetalis Vavilov, Avena diffusa var. volgensis Vavilov, Avena orientalis Schreb., Avena sativa var. aristata Schltdl., Avena sativa var. brunnea Korn., Avena sativa var. cinerea Korn., Avena sativa var. diffusa Neilr., Avena sativa var. eligulata Vavilov ex Mordv., Avena sativa var. flava Korn., Avena sativa var. grisea Korn., Avena sativa var. inermis Korn., Avena sativa var. ligulata Vavilov ex Mordv., Avena sativa cv. montana Alef., Avena sativa var. mutica Schltdl., Avena sativa var. nigra Haller, Avena sativa var. orientalis (Schreb.) Hook. f., Avena sativa cv. pugnax Alef., Avena sativa var. segetalis (Vavilov) Nevski, Avena sativa cv. tristis Alef., Avena volgensis (Vavilov) Nevski

Family: Poaceae


Origin: Oat originated as domesticated crop species in Europe, but development of the cultivars of today has brought about considerable change in the appearance, value, and distribution of these plants.

Time of introduction:


Oat is an annual cereal and the least winter hardy of all small grains. It is usually grown as a summer annual and is used mostly as a silage or hay crop, but can sometimes be used as pasture. Like most small grains, oat has a high acidity tolerance and can be grown in soils with a pH as low as 5.0.

Life cycle (annual/biennial/perennial):

Growth habit & Regrowth type:
Oat is an erect annual grass. It has moderate to heavy density of growth and shows a succulent growth type. Oat varieties usually have a lower ability to produce tillers than do barley varieties.

Invasive potential:



Image Gallery: The OSU Forage Information System contains an Image Gallery that includes Oat photographs and drawings useful in identification. The URL for the gallery is: http://forages.oregonstate.edu/main.php?PageID=241

The direct URL for Oat is: http://forages.oregonstate.edu/main.php?PageID=178&SpecID=97

Inflorescence: The inflorescence is a diffuse panicle with 2-3 florets, all bisexual or the distal one or two may be reduced and male or sterile; glumes sub-equal 7-11 veined, longer glume 0.66-1.29 inches (17-30 mm). Oat inflorescence image.


Seed: Lemmas are glabrous, 7-9 veined, either bifid or with a bristle at their apex; lowest lemma 0.47-1.0 inch (12-25 mm) (2n=42). The rachilla of the cultivated oat does not disarticulate at maturity (that of several weed species do). Its lemmas are rarely awned. The grain is tightly enclosed by the hard lemma and palea.

Stem: Culms of oat are tufted or solitary, erect or bent at the base, and smooth.

Leaf: The leaves are non-auriculate, green and the sheaths rounded on the back; ligules are blunt, membranous.


Root: Oat has a fibrous root system. Oat root image.

Physiology and growth period:
Oat is a cool season (C3) annual grass. Growth initiates at ___ and stops at ____.

Self-pollination is normal, but cross-pollination by wind also occurs.

Quality/anti-quality factors:



Suitability zones:
Oat is widely grown as a fodder in temperate and sub-tropical countries, but also does well in the high-altitude tropics.


Oat shows moderate resistance to cold. Winter forms of oat are not as cold hardy as rye, triticale, wheat, or barley. A temperature of 17 F (-8 C) is required to kill seedlings of oat or barley. Oat grows best in cool, moist climates, yet it is adapted to many climatic extremes. It is an excellent winter cover crop in the South and in areas where winter freezes are not severe.

Oat is susceptible to damage by hot, dry weather that occurs during reproduction. The best areas for oat production have relatively cool summers.

Quantitiative Table:

Max Temp (C)
Min Temp (C)
Precip (mm)
Soil pH Soil Drainage
Soil Salinity
Low High Low High Low High Low High Low High Low High
Well Adapted
1. For the High values for January Minimum temperature and Annual Precipitation: "9999 is entered to indicate no limit to the high values for this tolerance category."
2. For Soil Drainage categories, " Abbreviations are used for Soil Drainage categories: VPD (very poorly drained), PD (poorly drained), SPD (somewhat poorly drained), MWD (moderately well drained), WD (well drained), SED (somewhat excessively drained), ED (excessively drained)."

Climate: In temperate climates it is usually a spring-sown crop; in sub-tropical and Mediterranean conditions it is grown in the cool season; in the tropics it is grown at altitude: in Kenya, on the Equator it can be grown from 5,249 feet (1,600 metres) upwards but is best above 6,561 feet (2,000 metres) and excellent at 9186 feet (2,800 metres).

Soils: Oats, while responding to high fertility, will produce a crop on soils too poor and acid for wheat; they can be grown on most agricultural soils so long as drainage is reasonable.

Grazing Management: Oats are usually mown but can be grazed; controlled, rationed grazing with electric fencing is best for young crops; if lightly grazed a second grazing will be produced. The final grazing, of course, should aim to remove the whole crop. At high altitudes in Kenya (Molo) with well-distributed rainfall, oats provide many months of grazing if carefully managed.

Turf Management:

Pests: Diseases: Commonly distructive diseases include: rusts, smut, root rots, powdery mildew, mosaic and other virus diseases. See Oats: the main winter forage crop for more information on how to prevent diseases and maximize your yield.

Pests: Insects: Production is affected by hessian fly, grasshopper, russian wheat aphid, army worm, greenbug, chinch bug, and army cutworm.

Pests: Nematodes:


The cultivated species of oats are not known in the wild. A wide range of varieties is available to suit many agro-ecological conditions and different uses. Fodder varieties which provide several cuts have been developed. Breeding programmes are mainly aimed at improving grain production, although forage qualities are also screened. The greatest concentration of oat improvement work is in North America. The Oat newsletter, (Edited by James Chong, Cereal Research Center, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, Winnipeg, Canada) provides information on recent developments.


Time of sowing varies widely according to the wide range of climates where oats are grown. In areas of very cold winters they are spring sown; in temperate climates both autumn and spring sowing occurs; in the Mediterranean and sub-tropical regions they are mainly autumn-sown for hay; in the high altitude tropics they are sown at the onset of the rainy season.

A clean, well prepared seed bed should be prepared and basal fertilizer applied according to local experience. A top-dressing of nitrogenous fertilizer should also be applied.

Seeding rate:
Local practices vary widely and rates as low as 53 lbs/acre (60 kg/ha) to over 89 lbs/acre (100 kg/ha) are used. Oats are often mixed with vetches, and sometimes peas, for hay or silage, the cereal giving support to the trailing legume; the oat seed rate should be reduced by about half; the growth cycles of both varieties must synchronise. A light seeding of oats is useful to give an early bite in Egyptian Clover. Seed may require to be dressed depending on local disease patterns.

Seeding depth:
Seeds are drilled to 1.5 inches (4 cm) deep; when machinery is unavailable it may be broadcast.

Fertilization and liming:
does this apply specifically to oat? The principle fertilizer need of small grains is normally nitrogen. If the cereal is to be used for forage, a fall application of N is particularly critical. However, large fall applications may result in luxory consumption of N, and high forage yields often cannot be sustained without additional N fertilizer later in the year. While responses to fertilizer are variable depending on the myriad of factors associated with plant nutrient uptake, one can observe that the most common fertilization practice for small grain pasture involves application of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium at planting time and topdressing with N in winter and/or spring. It is especially important to split N applications when a grain harvest is planned subsequent to grazing.


Oat is used as forage (hay, pasture, green manure) and cover cropping, and the grain is used widely for human consumption.

Seed crop:
Seed crops are grown in the same way as for a grain crop. Oats are largely self-pollinated so farmers can save their own seed for several crops provided that rogueing is carried out and the usual precautions against mechanical contamination are taken. The closely-related wild oats (A. fatua, A. ludoviciana) are serious weeds of cereal fields and care should be taken to avoid their presence in cultivated oats since the wild ones shed their seeds before harvest and would, thereafter, cause much damage in subsequent wheat crops.

The green plant is a good forage and makes good hay and silage. The straw is a useful roughage. The grain is an important livestock feed and the unhulled, crushed fruit is the usual form in which it is fed to ruminants and horses. Oat forage, hay, straw and grain are renowned horse fodder.

Erosion Control/Conservation:
Oat can provide erosion control, enhance soil life, suppress weeds, and add organic matter

Wildlife habitat and feed:


Economic value:

I am not sure if we can use any of this information or not, if we can I will go through and do the conversions.

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.


Soil and water conservation:



  1. Barnes, R.F., D.A. Miller, C.J. Nelson. 1995. Forages Volume 1: An Introduction to Grassland Agriculture. 5th edition. Iowa State University Press. Ames, Iowa. 36:452-456.
  2. Duke, J.A. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished. Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plants Products Website. Available at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Avena_sativa.html (verified 12 July 2004).
  3. Jacques, D. 2002. The identification of certain native and naturalized grasses by their vegetative characters. Canadian Agriculture Library (CAL) [Online]. Available at http://www.agr.gc.ca/cal/epub/762e/762_toc_e.html (verified 12 July 2004).
  4. Suttie, J.M. Avena sativa L. FAO Grassland Index [Online]. Available at http://www.fao.org/ag/AGP/AGPC/doc/GBASE/Data/pf000466.HTM (verified 12 July 2004).
  5. UC SAREP Online Cover Crop Database: Oat. 2004. University of California. Davis, CA. Available at http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/cgi-bin/ccrop.EXE/show_crop_28 (verified 12 July 2004.)
  6. USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN) [Online]. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. Beltsville, Maryland. Available at http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?6123 (verified 12 July 2004).
  7. USDA, NRCS. 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 [Online]. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA. Available at http://plants.usda.gov/cgi_bin/plant_profile.cgi?symbol=AVENA(verified 12 July 2004).

David B. Hannaway and Christina Larson, Oregon State University

Document creation:
25 June 04

Last update:
26 July 04


Review date: