Mac Ehrhardt, Albert Lea Seed

When a farmer calls to ask us about oats, our first question is, “What’s the end use?” Variety selection is simply much easier once you define why you are growing oats.

As with soybeans and corn seeds for farming, oat variety selection is critical. If you plan on selling whole oats for livestock feed or food-grade markets, then quality characteristics, like test weight, rise to the top of the criteria list. But what if you’re looking for oats to plant and underseed with legumes? What if you need oat straw for your farm, or to sell? Or maybe you’re incorporating oats for haylage—what varieties should you consider then?

Once you know your end use, you can consider the Big Six, the six most common selection criteria in oat varieties:

  • Yield
  • Test Weight
  • Disease Resistance (Crown Rust and Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus)
  • Maturity
  • Lodging Resistance (and height)
  • Adaptation: how varieties perform within their specific geography and field conditions.

Every location is different, and there can be performance variability from season to season. Keep an eye on trials near you. Our Trial Data page contains links to recent oat variety trials from across the region, so you can see how specific varieties performed—and under what management methods.


Early-heading varieties are often good choices for more southerly locations where summer heat can reduce grain yields. This is because the later an oat variety heads out, the higher the likelihood that it’s going to be heading at a time when there’s hot weather. Late oats, in general, aren’t a great choice as you move them south.

Early is also better when farmers are planting oats as a nurse crop for alfalfa. By contrast, later-maturing varieties are often taller (for more straw and/or forage) and can be more adapted to more northern locations.


Lodging is a major challenge for farmers across the Midwest, especially for oats being harvested for grain. If you are harvesting your oats for grain, and especially if your oats are underseeded with a hay crop, make sure you choose a variety with a good lodging score.


Environmental and disease stresses affect grain quality and yield, so select oat varieties with resistance to the stresses most prevalent in your location. Diseases can reduce test weight, which could jeopardize an oat crop’s marketability for a milling market.

Crown rust is the most significant disease that oats face in our growing area, but barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) can also be a problem. Farmers should select oat varieties with high resistance to crown rust, and non-Organic farmers should consider spraying a fungicide if weather conditions are conducive to the development of rust.

Specific recommendations for each end use


Oats used for the food-grade market may require specific thresholds that vary, depending on the purchaser. Some buyers may have particular requirements for kernel color, oil content, and beta glucan (β-glucan) levels. Growers for the food-grade market should consult their buyers’ requirements ahead of time before settling on specific oat varieties.

If you’re growing for a miller (like Grain Millers) then quality is the primary concern. Topping the list is high test-weight (36 lb+ test weight/bushel), but other important characteristics include crown rust resistance, yield, lodging resistance, and local adaptation.

One of my personal favorite oat varieties for the milling market is Reins. It was released by the University of Illinois in 2015, and it continues to perform well in variety trials across the Upper Midwest. It’s an early variety with great test weight. It is shorter with very good lodging resistance, and it still has some crown rust resistance. We offer Reins as both organic and conventional.

Best Oat Varieties for Milling/Food-Grade:


Yield is king when selecting oat varieties for feed, but crown rust resistance is also important.  If you also want to bale the straw, look for a taller variety with good lodging resistance.

Best Oat Varieties for Feed & Straw:

OATS FOR FORAGE (Baleage / Silage)

If you are growing oats primarily for silage or baleage, you need to answer another question as well: “are you underseeding your forage oats?”

If you are not underseeding your forage oats, then you can maximize your tonnage by planting a forage-specific oat variety (listed below).  These varieties have been bred to be tall, leafy, and late (thus providing a wide harvest window).  But please understand that these forage-specific oats should not be underseeded with alfalfa or hay mixes.  They are too competitive, and you risk having a poor alfalfa/hay stand when you take the oats off.

If you are underseeding your forage oats with alfalfa or pasture seed, then choose a tall, good-standing variety with crown rust resistance.  Crown rust resistance is important for forage production as well, because a severe crown rust infestation can significantly reduce both the yield and quality of your forage.

Best Oat Varieties for Forage

Forage-Specific Oats:

  • Laker (Organic | Conventional)
  • Everleaf – not in stock for 2021
  • ForagePlus – not in stock for 2021

Tall Oats:


If you’re using oats as a nurse crop for alfalfa or a hay mix, and you’re taking the oats for grain, maturity leaps to the top, because timing will be critical. Look for varieties with early maturity, that are short to medium height, and that have good lodging resistance, and good resistance to crown rust.

Best Oat Varieties for Nurse Crop:


If you’re growing oats that you intend to sell for cover crop seed, your number one selection criterion needs to be: is the variety legally available for growers to plant without obtaining a license? Most of the best-yielding, disease resistant oats are going to be illegal to sell for seed unless grown as a class of Certified Seed. If there are no intellectual property limitations or if the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) has expired, then those varieties are good candidates for cover crop seed production. After that, high yield is what you’ll be aiming for, and that also means that lodging resistance is important, too.

Best Oat Varieties for Cover Crop Seed Production:

If you have questions about selecting oats, give us a call at (800) 352-5247.