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K-State Research and Extension : Spring Oat Planting Time Near In Kansas

Feb 10, 2009

MANHATTAN, Kan. – The optimum time to plant spring oats in Kansas is fast approaching, said Vic Martin, K-State Research and Extension annual forages and alternative crops specialist at the South Central Experiment Field near Hutchinson.

Martin outlined several benefits to planting spring oats.

“Over the last several years, cattle producers have found spring oats to provide excellent spring pasture and hay,” he said. “Oat seed is inexpensive and with reasonable fertilizer inputs, it can provide an excellent bridge for producers short on available pasture in April and May until perennial pasture or summer annual forage production becomes available.” 

The optimal planting date for spring oats depends on location, he added.

“In southeast Kansas, the optimal date ranges from February 20 to March 15. In northwest Kansas, the optimal date is from the first week of March through the end of March. For most of the state, planting is recommended from late February through the mid-March,” he said.

Oat pasture should be treated the same as winter wheat pasture in terms of stocking rates and time to initiate grazing, Martin said. Since grain production is not practical or recommended when oats are grazed, producers should treat oat pasture as a graze-out program or remove it when ready for the next crop. Oats are easily controlled by a variety of herbicides, such as glyphosate and atrazine.

Properly stored, oat hay also provides a high-quality feed source, he added.

“Studies at K-State’s South Central Experiment Field near Hutchinson indicate hay yields of three to five tons per acre are typical under average weather conditions. Hay yield was determined at late milk/early dough stage, with an average moisture content of 60 percent,” Martin said. 

These hay yields were obtained with 75 pounds per acre of nitrogen applied preplant and an additional 50 pounds per acre of nitrogen broadcast approximately six weeks after emergence, he said. Lower total nitrogen rates will result in adequate forage production, especially hay. However, to maximize grazing opportunities, it is important to supply adequate nitrogen. 

For hay, late boot to early heading is the optimal timing to balance quantity with quality considerations, he added.

“Harvested at the dough stage, hay should have an approximate total digestible nutrients (TDN) level of 56 percent with 10 percent protein, both on a dry basis. A nitrate test is recommended. Prussic acid levels should not be a concern,” he said.

Silage is another option for spring oats.

“Oats should be harvested for silage from late milk through early dough stages. Expect silage with a TDN of approximately 60 percent and 9 percent protein on a dry weight basis,” the agronomist said.

Finally, oats in Kansas may be planted for grain with expected yields of 50 or more bushels per acre most years, Martin said. “However, typical growing conditions during grain fill normally result in low test weights, making the grain unsuitable for food use. Grain from oats is acceptable as livestock feed; however, a market should be identified prior to planting since few markets exist locally,” he said.

More information is available in the K-State publication MF-1072 “Small Grain Cereals for Forage” at:

Story by: Steve Watson
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Management Practices for Spring Oats Production
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Producers interested in planting spring oats should secure seed as soon as possible since oat seed stocks are typically not large, especially of Kansas-produced seed, said Vic Martin, K-State Research and Extension annual forages and alternative crops specialist at the South Central Experiment Field near Hutchinson.

“There are many potential spring oat varieties for planting. However, availability often determines what variety is planted. Ogle, though an older variety, is still readily available and is well suited for low pH soils. Bates, Dan, Don, Richard and Mustang also perform well in the area as forage oats. Most oat varieties available in Kansas perform adequately,” he said.

The most recent K-State publication on spring oat varieties can be found at: or at K-State Research and Extension county and district offices.

Martin gave these tips for producers who are planning to plant spring oats:

  • Before planting, check the herbicide history of the field. Oats are sensitive to triazine herbicides. If planting oats for pasture and considering applying a herbicide for weed control, check the pesticide label for grazing restrictions.
  • A seeding rate of two bushels per acre is recommended. Under good soil moisture or irrigation, three bushels per acre may be preferable for grazing.
  • When grown for hay or silage, fertility recommendations are 75 to 125 pounds of nitrogen per acre. When planted for grazing, an additional 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre are recommended. As always, a soil test is recommended.
  • Oats may be successfully planted no-till, however, growth and vigor are typically greater when pre-plant tillage is used.
  • No-till is more successful in fields that have been under no-till for a period of years, and riskier in ‘opportunistic’ or intermittent no-till situations. In either case, a fine, firm seedbed is necessary for optimal production. Under adequate soil moisture conditions, a seeding depth of one-half to one inch is preferable. Oats may be planted at depths greater than one inch under dry conditions; however, oat seedlings are less vigorous than wheat and can experience difficulties emerging at deeper planting depths, especially after crusting rains.
  • To facilitate planting and maximize forage production, winter annual weeds should be controlled mechanically or with a burndown herbicide prior to planting.
  • Weed control is best achieved through a good stand with rapid growth.
  • Before using any herbicides consult the label.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.