Naked oats step into the limelight

Andrew Barr contemplates new markets between naked oat variety Bandicoot, left, and the conventional husked variety Echidna, right.

New market opportunities

Australian farmers are cheering a new cereal variety — Bandicoot naked oats. From the east coast to the west, the limited supplies of certified Bandicoot seed have been snapped up for sowing this year.

And little wonder — last season at Cootamundra in NSW, Andrew Roberts harvested 4.3 t/ha; in WA this year guaranteed minimum price contracts of $ 150 a tonne are being offered and the Australian Barley Board, which operates through SA and Victoria, has received positive processor feedback on samples it has sent to Korea.

Mr Roberts. Chairman of the NSW Oats Industry Advisory Board and a registered seed grower, said he grew 30 hectares of Bandicoot. The crop was sown on fallow and harvested after rain. "We were more than happy with it." he said.

He has sold Bandicoot seed to fanners from central Victoria to southern Queensland.

Why all the fuss?

According to Bandicoot breeder, Andrew Barr, the answer lies in the difference between naked oats and the conventional varieties — and the potential the naked version has to replace other grains in the animal and human food market.

Conventional oats which are high in fibre have traditionally been fed to animals with rumens, such as sheep and cattle. Naked oats have no husk. They are high in protein, fat and energy but low in fibre.

This makes them eminently suited to markets where oats have not traditionally been consumed ... down the throats of poultry and pigs, for instance. They can also play a new role in old markets such as feed for racehorses. Without the husk, the naked oat has a very high energy content — higher than wheat or barley. Growers are reporting protein levels of 14-15 per cent, although this varies markedly across regions.

"It's just about an all-round replacement of all feed grains. We think it has huge potential," said Rod Bates, Manager of Channel Seeds in Griffith. His company is introducing naked oats to Australian and overseas processors, including companies in Taiwan, Japan and South Africa.

NSW and WA trials

Mr Barr, the senior research officer in oat breeding with the SA Research and Development Institute, said about 1,000 tonnes of seed were grown in 1992. He estimates that the seed sown in four states this year will cover about 15,000-20,000 hectares and this will be the launching pad for many more thousands of hectares in the plus 450 mm rainfall zone of the cereal belt.

Commercial quantities of Bandicoot are going into some very promising large-scale and niche markets for the first time in 1993.

New markets

"The English are the most advanced — they are doing some weird and wonderful things with naked oats like putting them into malted grain for bread, into extruded dog food pellets and they are even extracting the oil," said Mr Barr. "The Canadians are getting very good growth and feed conversion rates by using naked oats in pig rations and their taste panels are showing that the meat flavour is very good." On the home front, Andrew Roberts says there are indications the NSW poultry industry could want 30,000 tonnes from the 1994 harvest.

It has taken 15 years to get from the first plant cross to the commercial release stage in this breeding program but Mr Barr said that Bandicoot was only the first in a suite of naked oats likely to become available. GRDC is supporting the development of these new lines.

Some weaknesses

He said that Bandicoot had resistance to foliar leaf diseases and had coped well in 1992 with prolonged damp conditions in many areas of the southern cereal belt. However, it is susceptible to stem rust, cereal cyst nematode and stem nematode.

Bandicoot stands well but it shatters more readily than Echidna.

Breeders are working on lines to overcome these defects. Four new naked lines have entered the most advanced stage of testing and some of those may have the right combination of disease-resistant traits. There is also scope in the program for a line better adapted to WA.

Bandicoot is considered a very 'itchy' crop to harvest, because masses of fine hairs are released by threshing. Mr Barr recommends disposable overalls and plenty of talcum powder. Some growers report handling gets easier with time. Growers should also be aware that this cultivar can't handle a dry finish, and for this reason it is not recommended below 450 mm rainfall. Mr Barr said the four advanced naked oat lines are being tested in 20 field trials in SA and Victoria this year, along with 27 conventional husked varieties.

Region North