By VERLYN KLINKENBORG, Published: November 3, 2012NY Times
A couple years ago, I saw a small field of oats growing in northwest Iowa — a 40-acre patch in a sea of genetically modified corn and soybeans. It was an unusual sight. I asked my cousins, who still farm what my dad always called the “home place,” whether someone had added oats to the rotation of crops being planted. The answer was no.
The purpose of that patch of oats was manure mitigation. The waste that had been sprayed on that field came from a hog confinement operation, and oats were the only crop that would put such concentrated, nearly toxic manure to nutritional use and do it quickly.
Oats used to be a common sight all over the Midwest. They were often sown with alfalfa as a “nurse crop” to provide some cover for alfalfa seedlings back when alfalfa was also a common sight. Until about 30 years ago, you could find all sorts of crops growing on Iowa farms, and livestock. Since then two things have happened. All the animals have moved indoors, into crowded confinement operations. And the number of crops has dwindled to exactly two: corn and soybeans.