RISING demand for oat-based foods in Asia has bolstered market prices for oats, prompting WA farmers to respond with increased plantings of the early-sown, frost-tolerant crop this season.
ConsultAg consultant Garren Knell said the area sown to oats had been increasing in WA over the past couple of years, and there has been a sharp spike this year.
Mr Knell estimated oat plantings this season had increased by 20-30 per cent across his client base compared to the previous year.
"We have seen Asian markets grow rapidly, wanting to source high beta-glucan oats. Where traditionally Asian countries would have a fried rice-type breakfast they are now having Asian-flavoured porridges," he said.
"Traditionally in WA the oat market was mainly centred around the Japanese racehorse industry as well as the local stockfeed industry, with a little bit of milling thrown in.
"We are seeing demand for oat-based foods increasing and that has given us pricing signals that the industry wants more oats grown. When the price is right, farmers respond."
Mr Knell said farmers were also drawn to the crop because of its agronomic benefits.
"In the past decade we have had regular, serious frost events which have been quite damaging to wheat, barley and canola.
"Oats are very tolerant of frosts, so they fit our farming system well and minimise some of the frost risk," he said.
"Oats tend to be grown earlier in the season and grow a big canopy which competes with the weeds resulting in less reliance on herbicides to manage weeds.
"With wheat, we have to sow it late to try to avoid frosts, whereas oats can be sown early, maximising yield and maximising their competitive nature against weeds."
The heightened interest in oats has seen new growers join the industry and the expansion of the crop into non-traditional areas of the WA cropping zone.
"There are a lot of new growers. Traditionally oats have been grown in the western part of the Wheatbelt where there are often wetter and softer finishes,'' he said.
"We are seeing oats pushing further out into more marginal and drier wheat growing areas. Farmers are picking their soil types carefully and making sure they get the crops in early. In those areas it has really become a frost risk management tool."
Additional investment has been made into oats processing with Quaker Oats investing in new facilities to process more oats in WA and Unigrain purchasing Morton Seed and Grain's oat processing facility and ramping up production.
Elders technical services manager Bill Moore said many areas that had only grown oats for home farm consumption in the past were looking to capitalise on the newfound potential return from oats.
"Most people have grown oats for their own sheep feed or small-use markets, but they are expanding to try to capture the incentives that are in the market at the moment," he said.
Mr Moore said the season had got off to "the most amazing start".
"Rain at the end of March continued through for most growers.
"The opportunity to sow early with crops such as oats came up and people took advantage of that sowing opportunity where they could," he said.
Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) western regional panel chair Peter Roberts said new growers - and even long-standing growers - should source the latest information on crop production from the GRDC's suite of web-based GrowNote publications.
"The GRDC-funded GrowNotes have been produced to support growers and advisers. They are a comprehensive resource for growers and their advisers to gain the critical knowledge they need," he said.
GRDC GrowNotes have become an essential go to resource for growers throughout Australia.
They contain a wealth of valuable information from planning and planting advice to the latest in nutrition, weed, insect and disease management.
The crop-focused publications can be found at www.grdc.com.au/ GrowNotes.
They are also available on the new GrowNotes app that growers can download to their mobile devices, giving them all the latest information, whether in the ute, out in the paddock or in the farm office.