“As a result of perceived unprofitability and lack of sufficient market infrastructure, alternative agricultural inputs have not been introduced to the area.”
The Missouri River Valley primarily consists of consolidated farms growing genetically-modified (GM) soy and corn, in rotation. The agricultural inputs – seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides – are primarily provided by Bayer/Monsanto, whose national headquarters is in Creve Coeur. The Missouri Farm Bureau and supporting legislature have aligned their interests with Bayer, advocating for de-regulation of the farming industry. In this neoliberal/libertarian space, market and private investment is king.
As a result of perceived unprofitability and lack of sufficient market infrastructure, alternative agricultural inputs have not been introduced to the area. Local elevators operated by the likes of Cargill only accept corn, soy, limited winter wheat. As a result, agricultural innovation in alternative crop varieties has stagnated – or migrated to the AgTech industry.
“Research has proven that when oats are added to a three or four year crop rotation, corn and soy productivity is maintained or increased”
The Missouri Agriculture Extension’s only extensive publication on growing oats dates to the 1930s. At the time they had deemed oat cultivation an unprofitable pursuit because of the local climate. Missouri’s harsh winters, short spring, and dry summers do not permit high-yield oat cultivation. Instead, oats are harvested early in the season for hay product. This situation has worsened since the 1930s. As a result, oats are often grown in colder climates, like Canada. Research has shown that, when grown with a legume such as red clover, oats become productive cover crops, fixing nitrogen and increasing soil fertility. In three or four year crop rotations, corn and soy productivity has been maintained or increased when oats are included. Additionally, farmers have received supplemental income and economic resilience due to the diversified crop portfolio.
“Following WWII, oats were replaced with
synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides”
The Danforth Plant Science Center (DPSC) is at the heart of a new AgTech Innovation district, called 39 North in Creve Coeur, Missouri. They are part of the nascent regional coalition, BioSTL, advancing innovation in medical and plant science. Former DPSC board member, Dan Burkhardt, has advocated for distancing the DPSC from Monsanto and establishing a field research park in the region.
Prior to WWII, oats had become a staple of American farms, being used to feed the horses that were pulling the plows. In addition to the benefit of feed, the oats were a key part of a sustainable management farming practices. After the development of industrial/chemical agricultural production methods following WWII, oats were replaced with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, distributed by companies like Monsanto.
“Oatly is actively recruiting more Swedish
farmers to take up the cause”
Currently, national consumption of dairy is declining. At the same time, alternatives to milk are rising in contemporary culture, and a “post-milk” social movement is nascently forming. Almond, coconut, and soy milk have been replaced recently by an oat milk beverage called Oatly, marketed by a Swedish-based company whose massive popularity has caused demand to outstrip supply. To help meet the increased US demand they are building a factory in Millville, New Jersey, a small de-industrialized and peri-urban community.
Utilizing a national grant, Oatly partnered with local farmers and a Swedish Agricultural Sciences Program. They enlisted ten farmers to participate in a study on sustainable farming through introducing oats, among other crops, for human consumption. They effectively became a distributed research-park. The published results of the study are promising, and Oatly is actively recruiting more Swedish farmers to take up the cause, not only for their own bottom line, but also for a sustainable future.
“Quaker’s oats aren’t grown in America”
Quaker Oats is America’s largest cereal producer, most widely known for their Oatmeal. They have been a staple of American’s diet for generations, headquartered in Chicago with their primary mill in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. However, Quaker’s oats aren’t grown in America. Rather, they are sourced from Canadian farms. Midwest oats have not met the quality assurances of Quaker and therefore no market, and no incentive exists for current farmers to implement oats into their crop rotation. Despite this, Quaker has launched their own Oat Beverage trying to capitalize on the American consumer trend toward healthier products and diversify their offerings in this emerging market niche.
“We are into O.A.Ts:
Now, I/O is leveraging the agricultural research occurring at research centers, Washington University in St Louis, and the University of Missouri, coupling it with the land holdings of local farmers, and siting it in an area that has experienced prolonged market disenfranchisement and de-industrialization. We are capturing the contemporary imaginary, millennial movements, and agrarian roots, and marrying these to 21st century technology and means of production. We operate in a distributed and collectively realized system of land management, cultivation, and entrepreneurialism. We are into O.A.Ts: Open Access Technologies.
I/O’s oat production intends to meet the stringent quality standards (weight, water percentage, human consumption) in place at Quaker Oats’ Cedar Rapids milling and processing plant. By meeting these standards I/O can show it is productive at scale, rather than inhabiting a purely regional niche market.