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Photo By Jan Shepel

Drought makes summer dismal for oats breeders

Dec. 13, 2012 | 0 comments



This past summer’s growing season for small grain breeder John Mochon can be summed up in one word – "dismal."

The project manager for small grain research at the University of Wisconsin said yields were really down in his oats plots, plagued as they were by aster yellows brought in by leafhoppers.

The bugs no doubt benefited from last year’s mild winter and early green-up this spring and decimated some of his test plots. Mochon said at the recent meeting of the Wisconsin Crop Improvement Association in Madison.

Of course the drought didn’t help either. "Yields were really down but bushel weights were not too bad."

On May 3 he recorded leafhoppers and from May through July there was barely any rain. The aster yellows disease brought in by those leafhoppers isn’t a disease for which resistance has been bred into the oats, so they hit Mochon’s plots hard.

The disease came along and wiped out rows of his plants. He lost half of his F1 (crossbred) plants. "It’s the smallest F1 harvest I’ve ever seen."

Some of his plots were planted April 5 in an early season that showed a lot of promise; others went in even earlier on March 29 at the University’s Arlington farm.

But the challenges of the season led to Mochon’s lowest yields ever at his primary research station on Madison’s west side. "You might hear me use the word dismal a few more times,"

There was good germination and stands looked good until the leafhopper infestation and development of aster yellows. The damage from that twin plague was most notable, Mochon said, in his historical nursery of plants.

There was very little crown rust in his plots, as might be expected when there was very little moisture and a lot of heat. He charted 13 days in July above 90 degrees in the field.

He said he doesn’t irrigate his oats plots but was tempted to this year.

Statewide in 2012 Wisconsin farmers planted 220,000 acres of oats, up about 5 percent from 2011. There were 130,000 acres harvested for grain, which was an increase of 15,000 acres from a year earlier.

The 2012 oats yield was 60 bushels per acre, down two bushels from 2011, but the increase in oats acreage meant that the statewide harvest was 9 percent higher than last year.

With 7.8 million bushels produced, Wisconsin ranked as the second-largest oat-producing state in the nation. Minnesota ranked as first.

As far as barley was concerned, Mochon said in tests around the state a variety called Rasmussen, a Minnesota variety that was released in 2008, ranked first. At 19 locations where the yields were tested, it came in from 47 to 50 bushels per acre.

At six locations it topped the trial, he said.

Oats that are harvested for forage are an increasingly important crop in Wisconsin because of the large dairy industry here. Performance tests continue on various varieties and how they yield.

Mochon said "Forage Plus" continues to be the top yield performer in these trials – this year coming in at 2.1 tons per acre averaged over two test plots at Arlington and West Madison.

A three-year average for the variety stands at 2.3 tons per acre with 13 percent crude protein and 124.6 RFQ (relative feed quality.)

Mochon said he continues to breed for forage oats and an F5 variety will be planted next year. (See related story on fall-planted oats for forage.)

There are five experimental varieties now on deck and one, now called 9509, will be released in 2014, and will be the next release from the program. "It is really bright. Almost all the seed harvested was really bright."

Mochon said he hopes he doesn’t get the leafhopper infestation every year. "It’ll put be out of business. Actually then I would have to work an aster yellows resistance."

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