Canadian oat growers up efforts to retake U.S. horse feed market

Over the last 15 years, Canadian oat exports have dropped by 70 per cent 
as U.S. feed manufacturers switched to cheaper ingredients

Canadian farmers are urging American horse owners to ask feed makers, “Where’s the oats?”

“What we have to do is convince the people who put the feed formula together to put the oats back into the formulation,” said Bill Wilton, president of the Prairie Oat Growers Association (POGA).

Over the last 15 years, Canadian oat exports have dropped by 70 per cent as U.S. feed manufacturers substituted oats with corn and other lower-cost ingredients such as dried distillers grains. But POGA is fighting back with an initiative called the Equine Feed Oat Project. The project was launched in 2009 to conduct research on feed oats and talk about their benefits to the equine industry. Recently, it held focus groups with horse owners to ask them about their animals’ diet and their preferences for feed.

“We’ve sat horse owners down and said, ‘Tell us about what you feed your horse… and what’s your opinion of oats’ feed value,’” Wilton said. “And we’re getting some terrific responses.”

Horse owners consistently view oats as a safe, nutritious and healthy feed, he said.

The challenge now is convince feed makers to bring oats back into their formulations, he added.

That job will be easier now that oat prices — which shot up in the early 2000s — are lower than corn.

“Corn is not $2 anymore — it’s closer to $7 and our oats have not kept pace, so we think that there’s a real opportunity for oats,” said Wilton. “We think that there’s a big opportunity to get most of the business back that we lost.”

The oat growers have also enlisted the help of several experts, including equine nutritionist Laurie Lawrence of the University of Kentucky, who reviewed more than 260 published research papers on the nutritional value of oats in the equine diet. He concluded oats are a superior feed due to their more digestible starch and higher palatability, as well as being a grain less likely to contain mycotoxins that threaten horse health.

The oat growers have also put together a high-profile advisory board — which includes Brian Rossnagel, Canada’s top oat breeder, and several American researchers. In June, it put out a call for additional research, including how oats may contribute to the animal’s performance and protect it against health disorders.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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