Oats are seeds or grains of a genus of plants that thrive in cool, moist climates. There are about 25 species of oats that grow worldwide in the cooler temperate regions. The oldest known cultivated oats were found inside caves in Switzerland and are believed to be from the Bronze Age. Oats are usually sown in early spring and harvested in mid to late summer, but in southern regions of the northern hemisphere, they may be sown in the fall. Oats are used in many processed foods such as flour, livestock feed, and furfural, a chemical used as a solvent in various refining industries. The oat crop year begins in June and ends in May. Oat futures and options are traded on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) and the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange (WCE).
Prices - Oat prices on the CBOT weekly nearest futures chart started the year 2007 at about $2.61 per bushel, and then traded within a wide range between a low of $2.35 and a high of $2.92 a bushel almost all year. In December oats rallied into the end the year to close at $3.30 per bushel. Prices continued to rally into early 2008 reaching as high as $3.84 in February.
Regarding cash prices, the average monthly price received by farmers for oats in the U.S. in the first 7 months of the 2007-08 marketing year (i.e., June 2007 to May 2008) rose 21.0% yr/yr to $2.50 per bushel.
Supply - World oat production in 2006-07 was virtually unchanged yr/yr at 23.540 million metric tons, which was a record low. World annual oat production in the past three decades has dropped very sharply from levels above 50 million metric tons in the early 1970s. The world's largest oat producers are the European Union with 32% of world production in 2006-07, Russia with 21%, Canada with 15%, the U.S. with 6%, and Australia with 4%.
U.S. oat production in the 2007-08 marketing year fell by -1.9% yr/yr to 92.000 million bushels, which was a new record low. U.S. oat production has fallen sharply from levels mostly above 1 billion bushels seen from the early 1900s into the early 1960s. U.S. farmers harvested only 1.576 million acres of oats in 2006-07, which was down -13.5% from the previous year and posted a new record low. That is down from the almost 40 million acres harvested back in the 1950s. The oat yield in 2006-07 was down -5.6% to 59.5 bushels per acre, which was a new record low. Oat stocks in the U.S. as of June 2007 were down by -2.6% yr/yr to a record low for June of 51.184 million bushels. The largest U.S. oat-producing states in 2006 were the northern states of Wisconsin (with 15% of U.S. production), Minnesota (12%), Iowa (9%), Pennsylvania (8%), and South Dakota (6%).
Demand - U.S. usage of oats in 2007-08 rose +2.5% yr/yr to 207.0 million bushels, up from last year's record low of 202.0 million bushels. Regarding U.S. usage of oats in 2006-07, 62% was for feed and residual, 32% for food, alcohol and industrial, 5.4% for seed, and 1.0% for exports.
Trade - U.S. exports of oats fell -33.3% to a mere 2.0 million bushels in 2007-08. U.S. imports of oats in 2007-08 rose +4.8% yr/yr to a record high of 110.0 million bushels.