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Get it right: Guide to successful Oat farming

Crop
 

Kamau Kimani, a medical officer at his oats farm in Ng'ondu farm, Njoro. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

Oats are a type of cereal grain scientifically known as Avena sativa. They are primarily grown for their edible seeds, which are commonly used in various food products.

The seeds, or grains, are small, oblong, and covered by a hull that is removed during processing.

Ken Kago, a seasoned farmer from Laikipia, shares his insights and guide on cultivating oats, highlighting the growing market demand and practical farming techniques for high yields.

“Oats grown on a quarter of an acre can feed a single dairy animal for one hundred days,” says Kago. 

Climate and Soil Requirements

Oats thrive in cool and moist climates. The ideal temperature range is between 15°C and 25°C. Oats are best grown in highland areas such as parts of the Rift Valley and Central Kenya. Oats prefer well-drained, loamy soils with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. Avoid waterlogged or highly acidic soils.

Land Preparation

Remove any weeds, stones, and debris from the field. Plow the land to a depth of about 15 to 20 cm to loosen the soil. Harrow the field to break up large soil clumps and create a fine seedbed.

Seed Selection

Choose high-yielding and disease-resistant oat varieties. Consult local agricultural extension officers or seed companies for recommended seeds. The variety widely used in Kenya is Oats S18.

Planting

Planting time varies depending on the region. In general, the best time to plant oats is at the onset of the long rains (March-April) or short rains (October-November). Use about 80 to 100 kg of seeds per hectare. Sow seeds at a spacing of 20 to 25 cm between rows and five to 10 cm within rows. Plant seeds at a depth of two to four centimetres.

Fertilisation

Apply a balanced fertilizer (NPK 20-10-10) at a rate of 200-300 kg per hectare at planting. Apply nitrogen fertilizer (CAN or urea) at a rate of 50-100 kg per hectare when the plants are about 30 cm tall.

Weed Control

Perform manual weeding two to three weeks after germination and subsequently as needed.Use selective herbicides as recommended by agricultural experts to control broadleaf and grassy weeds.

Pest and Disease Management

Common pests include aphids and armyworms. Use appropriate insecticides as recommended. Watch out for diseases like rust and mildew. Apply fungicides if necessary and practice crop rotation to minimize disease incidence. Ensure adequate moisture throughout the growing season, especially during the critical stages of germination and grain filling. Supplement rainfall with irrigation if necessary.

Harvesting

Oats are ready for harvest when the grains are hard and the plants have turned golden brown. This is usually three to four months after planting. Harvest oats by hand if the area is small. Ensure the grains are dry to avoid post-harvest losses.

Post-Harvest Handling

Dry the harvested oats to a moisture content of about 12 to 14 per cent to prevent spoilage. Thresh the oats to separate the grains from the straw. Store the grains in a cool, dry place. Use airtight containers or bags to protect against pests and moisture.

Market: A bag of oats costs between Sh4,500 to Sh5000, with an acre having the potential to yield 30 bags.

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