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June 27: Wild Oats

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The wild oat is a common weed in North Dakota. Wild oats like damp soil and are often found scattered along ditches and at the edge of fields. They are described as “a fierce competitor.”

North Dakota farmers have long recognized the wild oats as a problem. On this date in 1904, it was reported that wild oats were playing havoc with crops. The spring weather had been perfect for the oats, which like cool soil temperatures. They release their seeds ahead of wheat, which lets the oats get a head start on the wheat crop, leaving the wheat “in a very backward condition.”

Farmers found that once the wild oats got a start in a field, they were very difficult to eradicate. A farm agent observed, “If any man had a sure way to clean up all the wild oats, his secret would make a fortune for him.” A farmer agreed, saying that he could lasso wild cattle and horses, but he would give up when it came to wild oats.

Wild oats compete for light, moisture, and soil nutrients. They can reduce crop yields by as much as eighty percent. Infestations of the weed are found on twenty-eight million acres across the United States, with North Dakota being the most infested. Crop losses in North Dakota due to infestations can be as high as two hundred million dollars annually.

Since wild oats release their seeds so early, harvesting grain actually benefits the pest by clearing out the competing plants. Over the years, the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station received letters from farmers asking how to get rid of wild oats. Articles regularly appeared with advice. This interest is an indication of how widely the weed had taken hold.

Wild oats remain a concern, and the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station offers familiar strategies – crop rotation and using different herbicides.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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