The rationale behind AWC’s oats breeding programme came about as a result of a meeting in the South Island of New Zealand. After working in the public sector as an oat breeder, a former colleague had decided to set up his own breeding programme called Global Oats (NZ) Ltd. We agreed that we should collaborate and work on new varieties for both the southern and northern hemispheres.
The potential for oats in the UK is definitely there when we put good inputs into the crop. Oats are seen by many as a low input crop, but this is not so – it is a crop which responds to good agronomy. With a targeted input strategy, yield and quality can be realised.
We see good economic responses in oats to fungicides and PGRs. Seed rates and seed treatments are also part of our strategic agronomy work. We are also looking at a range of crop nutrients.
It is also worth noting that oats are one of the most competitive cereals in black grass situations. Oats are very flexible – often doing well from later sowings, hence allowing growers to use herbicides to reduce the black grass levels prior to drilling.
Looking at markets, UK consumption clearly limits the area to be sown and the price structure. However, oats are an expanding crop internationally and the UK crop can also progress on the back of exports as happened with wheat. 
Quality is important as well as yield. Indeed, the lowest yielding variety on the AHDB winter oat list also has the highest area sown in England. Nutritive value is really important – the health benefits of oats are well known and this is an area for development.
Our efforts are not limited to grain oats, we are also breeding naked oats and forage oats. Forage oats have proved to be very popular in North and South America as well as some developing countries. We are looking at these for a range of forage uses including Anaerobic Digestion (AD). Equally, naked oats have significant potential. While yields currently lag behind grain oats, they have a high value in the marketplace.

Our breeding programme is well under way and we have varieties being multiplied, and varieties currently in the National List system. We plan to continue to enter higher yielding and better quality varieties. We are fortunate that we work closely with Global Oats (NZ) Ltd to shuttle breed thus getting two cycles of selection and multiplication every year.