Oats Today

Iowa was at one time, a nationwide leader in small grain production, especially oats, but many farmers and their families haven’t grown them for a generation or more. This is due to the lower number of livestock to feed, as farmers now use gas powered machines to plant and harvest. Today, in Iowa oats are mostly grown on smaller family farms.

Preparing the Soil

Oats are typically grown in the summer or autumn. Like with most crops, a good plant starts with good soil preparation. Oats grow the best when planted in a dryer soil. Similar to wheat, some farmers prepare soil by tilling and some do not depending on the size of their farm. To till the soil, they use machines such as tractors and harrows to sow seeds.


Photo courtesy of Practical Farmers of Iowa

Planting and Growing

Oat seeds are typically planted in the summer or early autumn and stay dormant through the winter. Since oats need cold weather to grow, they are mostly grown in the northern parts of the midwest. During the winter, the seeds germinate to store energy until it is time to grow. The oat plants finally begins to grow in the spring when the weather is warmer.

Harvesting and Storing

Depending on when the oats were planted, they usually are harvested in the mid-summer and onwards. Farmers today use a machine called a combine to harvest the oats. This separates the stem of the plant from the oats. They are then loaded into a truck, like in this video, and are stored in silos until they are ready to be milled and hulled. This means that they are being prepared for us to eat!

Video courtesy of iowadairyboys

Uses of Oats

Oats are most commonly used in foods such as oatmeal, and oat flour. They are also common ingredients in baked goods like cookies, granola bars, and bread.

Oats are also a main source of feed for farm animals like horses and cattle. The straw from the oat plant can be used as bedding for the animals.

Non-edible uses for oats include using it to make lotions and makeup, along with multiple medicines as well.


Dormant: a seed is dormant when it is not growing or germinating, but keeps its cells alive in order to survive harsher weather.

Germinate: when a seed begins to grow after a period of being dormant. In the case of oats, the seeds germinate under ground first, go dormant when it is cold, and grow again when it gets warm.

Sow: to plant a seed by scattering it.

Harrow: a farm tool that goes over plowed land, removes weeds, and covers seeds.

Till: preparation of soil by digging, overturning, or stirring.

Hulling: removing the tough outer part of the oat plant.