Could oats emerge as the top choice for this season's harvest?

2024-04-03
Could oats emerge as the top choice for this season's harvest?
Oats

In Brussels, expectations are set for a decrease in wheat production across the European Union this year. Conversely, there is a notable uptick in the interest for the cultivation of oats for consumption, spurred by both demand and strategic marketing efforts, as outlined in the most recent forecast by COCERAL, the European Association for Agricultural Trade and Grain Analysis. In the previous year, the EU, which stands as the world's leading producer of oats, achieved a production milestone of 7.4 million tons. Present forecasts indicate an expansion in oat cultivation areas in certain EU member states, prompted by the launch of oat product promotional campaigns. This initiative is likely to escalate demand for oats and result in prices that are competitive when compared to wheat. COCERAL is optimistic about a substantial increase in oat cultivation areas, with farmers from the Baltic region showing increased participation, and Poland, the EU's foremost oat producer, not willing to compromise its leading position, is keen on ramping up production and enhancing yield efficiencies. It's noteworthy that since the 1980s, the yield disparity between wheat and oats in Poland has widened, due to breeders focusing more on wheat. Nonetheless, the cultivation practices (including plant protection and fertilization) applicable to both crops remain similar. Polish oat farmers currently achieve a yield of about 2.5 tons per hectare. However, by adopting the intensive farming practices similar to those in the UK, they could potentially reach oat yields of up to 6 tons/ha. Germany, which 14 years ago held a commanding 61% share of the European oat market, has seen its dominance wane to around 41%. Despite this, it could reclaim its position through advancements in oat breeding. "Nordsaat," a company at the forefront of oat breeding in Germany for more than a century, demonstrates the potential for innovation. Oat and wheat breeding fields constitute 20% of all breeding areas managed by the company, and it is estimated that one in every two oat fields in Germany and one in every five in Europe is cultivated using oat varieties developed by "Nordsaat." The promotion of oats as a nutritional option plays a significant role. For instance, "Haferkater," a Berlin-based fast-food chain, showcases an assortment of flavored oatmeal porridges. While the idea was initially met with skepticism, it has proven to be a success, evidenced by the soaring popularity and demand for oatmeal porridge. Inspired by Germany, a team from the Food Technology Department at Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands has initiated a project aimed at reintroducing oats into Dutch cuisine and public eating establishments. Food technology students have contributed by devising recipes for nutritious oat-based dishes. The endeavor to promote nutritious oats is expected to lead to an expansion of oat cultivation areas in the Netherlands. Furthermore, studies are being conducted in the country on the effects of plant protection products on oat quality and the implications of foregoing pesticides in favor of cultivating high-quality organic oats. The European market hosts 42 oat processing companies that are innovating new technologies to meet market demands, such as for oat beverages or the processing of organic grains. Oats are not only a significant source of 15% protein but also a crucial provider of beta-glucans, dietary fibers that help regulate blood sugar levels and maintain normal cholesterol levels in the human body. Consuming at least 3 grams of beta-glucans per day through food is shown to have positive health effects.

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