Practical Biodiversity: Keeping Oat on Farms by Helping Farmers Enhance Disease Resistance

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $111,548.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: oats


  • Crop Production: intercropping, application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: cultural control, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, physical control, prevention
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal abstract:

    Oat is important to many diversified farms as nurse crop, conservation crop, and high-fiber feed for young livestock. Crown rust of oat (Puccinia coronata) makes this crop less reliable and profitable, contributing to the loss of sustainable crop rotations. Experience in recent decades has shown that the pathogen can quickly overcome resistance in varieties that rely on single resistance genes. Increasing oat diversity by planting variety mixtures rather than single varieties can reduce disease severity and delay the evolution of pathogen virulence in much the same way natural ecosystems buffer disease. Variety mixtures would have high agronomic performance, contain both polygenic and monogenic diversity, and be relatively easy for breeders to develop. However, farmers and scientists lack the information to produce mixtures from current varieties. We will determine the rust resistance profiles of 15 Midwestern oat varieties, assemble mixtures, and evaluate their performance in the real world of working diversified farms. Outreach will include field days and workshops in cooperation with farmer groups, and publications for farm and scientific audiences. As a result, farmers and seed houses will be able to make variety mixtures that improve yield and grain quality. The consequent improvement in oat economics may allow it to take a larger role in the region, with important benefits to the landscape. In addition, the oat/crown rust pathosystem shares important characteristics with the soybean/Asian soybean rust (Phakopsora pachyrhizi) pathosystem. We will assess principles and technology transfer cost-effectively in the small, cohesive oat community, while developing a model for scientists working on other pathosystems. An ongoing evaluation plan, including surveys, farmer feedback, and analysis of seed sales records and scientific conference proceedings, will monitor the achievement of these outcomes.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The project will inform both the farmer community and the scientific community in the short term. In the intermediate and longer term, the project has the potential to affect the landscape of the Upper Midwest, the way that producers manage rust in oat (Avena sativa L.) and in other crops, and the paradigms of scientists developing strategies to counter these diseases.

    In the short term, this project will 1) determine the extent to which variety mixtures can control oat crown rust, caused by Puccinia coronata Corda, and increase the profitability and stability of the crop; 2) provide the data on the disease resistance specificities of Upper Midwest oat varieties that farmers will need for variety selection; and 3) increase farmer content knowledge and foster communication to and among producers on the value and use of this information.

    In the intermediate term, project outreach will 1) provide farmers and seed houses procedural knowledge of how to increase and stabilize oat yield and quality by combining complementary commercial varieties; 2) increase discussion among oat breeders on how to develop varieties with diverse disease resistance specificities; and 3) by improving oat profits, increase the diversity of Upper Midwest cropping systems, enabling longer, environmentally healthier, and more profitable rotations.

    In the long term, this project will 1) contribute to highlighting the value and increasing the adoption of within-crop genetic diversity in sustainable farming systems by showing its effectiveness in oat and 2) encourage research on within-crop diversity approaches in other crop/ pest systems.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.