OATS have returned to favour in the South East, with strong demand for oaten hay and feed oats from the livestock industry, and forward contracts for milling oats between $280 a tonne and $300/t.
According to the 2014 PIRSA final crop and pasture report released early this year, 16,500 hectares were sown to oats for grain in the Upper SE and 4000ha in the Lower SE.
The area under hay production was much greater and is expected to rise further this year.
MacKillop Farm Management Group has reported strong interest in oats in grower feedback which they had not had in previous years.
Research and operations manager Felicity Turner said new "bulkier" grain varieties, such as Williams and Bannister, were providing increased flexibility for growers, giving them the option to use these varieties for either hay or grain production, with hay often utilised to reduce the annual ryegrass weed seed banks which were a growing problem.
SE growers also had a freight advantage to many other areas, being in close proximity to oaten hay markets, and manufacturer Blue Lake Milling at Bordertown.
In response to grower interest, MFMG have sown more oats in their 2015 trials, to evaluate the multi-purpose varieties released in recent years.
An oaten hay trial has been planted at Frances alongside the oats NVT site looking at newer milling oat varieties compared to conventional hay varieties and assessing their performance for hay.
At Wolseley, MFMG have established a 'cereal challenge', to compare the gross margins of wheat, durum wheat, oats and barley on some of the more productive ground.
While at Sherwood, they have a trial evaluating both milling oat performance and hay yields.
"It is an example of MFMG being able to listen to its members, include some of these newer varieties and see what results we get which will hopefully help them in their decision-making."
Elders Naracoorte senior agronomist Jason McClure estimated between 10 per cent and 15pc more oats were planted this season, with economics the driving factor.
"Prices have risen up to $300/t, comparing favourably to wheat prices, and oats are a relatively cheap crop to grow on input costs."
"With an increased demand for fodder, oaten hay is a profitable enterprise as well and being used for ryegrass management."
Mr McClure said oats were no longer "the poor cousin" to other cereals such as wheat and barley and put at the end of the rotation.
"With the increase in market value we are seeing more growers viewing them as a profitable and viable option, giving them more attention and growing them in paddocks with low grass weed numbers and good fertility. Given the same opportunity, grower returns can be similar to wheat," he said. Like Stock Journal on Facebook