Drought Pushes U.S. Oat Crop to Lowest in Records Back to 1866

As drought conditions bake the upper reaches of the U.S. Plains, American farmers are now expected to harvest their smallest oats crop in records that go back to 1866.

Heat and dry weather are sapping yield potential in key growing states. This year’s U.S. harvest is estimated at 41.3 million bushels, the smallest ever, Department of Agriculture data showed Monday. The outlook is down from the agency’s June estimate of about 53 million bushels.

The USDA’s downgrade to the oats harvest is the latest example of abnormally hot and dry weather taking a toll on food production. Wheat futures have been surging and canola prices notched all-time highs amid a lack of rain in growing regions running along the U.S.-Canada border.

Drought Pushes U.S. Oat Crop to Lowest in Records Back to 1866

The dry conditions come after years of falling oats acreage as U.S. grain growers swapped it out for more profitable crops such as corn. This year’s low harvest compares with a peak of 1.15 billion bushels back in the 1960-61 season.

“There will be very few supplies left after this year,” Lorne Boundy, an oat farmer and merchandiser at Paterson Grain in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said by phone.

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With the U.S. growing fewer oats, buyers are heavily dependent on imports, mostly from Canada. But that country is also suffering from dryness. Canada’s oat harvest this year could total about 268.7 million bushels, down nearly 15% from a year ago.

One saving grace might be more consumers going back to restaurants for breakfast, instead of preparing oats at home, as restrictions ease from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hopefully there’s a little less demand as people return to a more take-out-restaurant diet,” Boundy said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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