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AFS 401

A Research Guide for Agricultural & Food Systems 401

Project Description

Creating a Sustainable Supply Chain: Palouse Oats

Background: Oats have shown to be an agronomically beneficial crop to grow in rotation on the Palouse. Some of these benefits are proven and some are anecdotal, but include: increasing AMF in soils, breaking of pest cycles in a wheat-dominant rotation, and suppressing Italian ryegrass and other weeds.

Challenges: Growers on the Palouse struggle to find markets for oats. Rotation benefits of oat production are not well understood or advertised to growers. Challenges to oat production on the Palouse need to be better understood.

Why is this important to Shepherd’s Grain?: SG is a grower-owned company that markets crops grown by producers implementing regenerative agricultural practices on their farms. Diverse crop rotations are a critical element to regenerative agriculture, but some crops are not able to be grown due to a lack of market access.

Capstone Proposal: Students will work with Jeremy Bunch, CEO of Shepherd’s Grain to research and plot a course for how oats can be a viable crop for Palouse farmers to take to market. This project will equip students with the knowledge and skills to think thoroughly through the process of bringing an agricultural product to market. They will learn the processes necessary for building a sustainable supply chain for crops.

Items (in no particular order) that need to be explored.

  1. Exploration of history of oat production on the Palouse (literature review & oral history review)
  2. Understanding oat production challenges on the Palouse (literature review, local farmer interviews, researcher/academic interviews)
  3. Listing agronomic benefits of oat production (literature review, local farmer interviews, researcher/academic interviews)
  4. Identifying agronomic research needed (local farmer interviews, researcher/academic interviews)
  5. Analyzing the economics of oat production taken to market (local farmer interviews, researcher/academic interviews)
  6. Understanding processing requirements to prepare oats for human and animal consumption, and detailing processing capacity on the Palouse and the broader PNW region (researcher/academic interviews, industry interviews)
  7. Exploration of potential market opportunities locally within the Palouse, and then regionally (industry interviews, private individual interviews e.g. – horse boarders, livestock producers)
  8. Listing logistical and practical challenges for growers & oat buyers/processors (grower interviews, industry interviews)

To get started Jeremy will work with the group in a brainstorm session to list all of our assets (all of the people and resources that will help us realize the above list). We have A LOT of these assets within the immediate area of WSU who will be available to students for this project, which will include WSU agricultural researchers/academics, USDA-ARS researchers, UofI researchers/academics, local farmers, livestock producers, equine industry, oat millers, feed millers, etc.).

Outcomes: Students will work with Shepherd’s Grain to produce a report for growers that includes…

  1. An introduction to the history of oat production on the Palouse
  2. How oats are a regionally-appropriate crop to grow in rotation on the Palouse
  3. An understanding of the agronomic benefits of oats in crop rotation, especially in regard to effects on soil biology, soil chemical and physical properties, weed & pest management, and nutrient cycling and balance
  4. Analysis of the economic impacts of oat production from an agronomic perspective
  5. What we know and what we don’t know about the challenges of producing oats on the Palouse
  6. Identification of further practical research needed from a farm perspective
  7. Documentation of known or anecdotal production best practices
  8. Market opportunities within the Palouse and then more regionally
  9. Processing needs and capacity within the Palouse and then more regionally
  10. Economic analysis from a farm financial perspective
  11. Opportunities for social and environmental benefits such as traceability and short supply chains for oats produced on the Palouse

Search Tips & Examples

This project asks a lot of different question. Below are some keywords and search statements that may help you answer these questions.

To learn more about developing keywords and search strings check out this link.

Example of Potential Searches:

Search #1 

Note: The following keywords and search string is just a quick idea, you may come up with better ones within your group.

Any Field: oats


Any Field: palouse OR "eastern washington" OR  "columbia plateau" OR "columbia basin"

Here what that search looks like in the WSU Libraries' catalog  


Search #2

You can also use 'oats' as a subject term.

Subject: oats


Title: dryland

Here what that search looks like in the WSU Libraries' catalog  

Find Scholarly/Peer-Reviewed Research

Useful Scholarly Databases: 

Web of Science (Clarivate Analytics) - Arguably the best STEM database.

Washington State University Library Catalog (Search It) - Allows you to  search among many different types of resources and order materials from other institutions if they are not immediately available through WSU. 

Agricola (EBSCO) - A small, agriculture specific, database provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library.


If you are interested in seeing a full list of agricultural databases available at WSU check out this link.

If you want to see all of the databases available, across disciplines, check out this link.

Find Data

There is a lot of data regarding growing oats. Here are a few links to get you started:

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service:

Oats: Production Acreage by County (Charts and Maps)

Trends in U.S. Agriculture Publications (Oats and Soybeans) 

FoodData Central (information on nutrients, dietary info, etc.)

International Data

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization International oat production information 

Washington State Data

The Washington State Department of Agriculture

WSU Extension Publications Repository (Current Publications) 

Find Local & Historic Resources

Part of your project will be understanding the historic context of growing oats on the Palouse. Below are some resources that will assist.

The WSU/WSC Cooperative Extension Services will provide historic and contemporary resources regarding growing oats in Eastern Washington. Many of these resources have been digitized but many others are only located within the Owen Science Library.

Note: You can find Extension (and other WSU) research a couple of different ways. Theoretically, there should be overlap between the following databases but in practice it is useful to search them all.

You can search the WSU Libraries' catalog and limit your results to Washington State University and/or Washington State University Cooperative Extension within the "Author" limiter. Here's a picture of how to do that.

Here is a "Title" search in the WSU Libraries Catalog for oats with the Author limiter set to Washington State University and/or Washington State University Cooperative Extension.

Research Exchange is the institutional repository at WSU. It will have a lot of historic resources but also some contemporary research. Here is a "Title" search for oats in Research Exchange.

The WSU Cooperative Extension Service (link) also provides a list of contemporary publications. It may also be useful to look at the University of Idaho's Cooperative Extension Service publications (link).

Finally, the WSU Libraries Manuscripts, Archives & Special Collections contains localized resources regarding growing oats in Eastern Washington (link to search), this includes many primary sources.

Other Useful Historic Databases

You should also search other historic repositories such as and Hathitrust.

Here is a search via for oats AND (palouse OR "eastern washington") with the results limited to resources within the National Agriculture Library

Here is a search in Hathitrust for (Title) oats AND (Full Text) palouse

Note: Play around with different keywords, limiters, etc. to get more/different results.


Find Industry & Corporate Info

For your project, you may need to examine corporate and industry profiles, trade publications, press releases, laws and court cases. etc.

Below are a few corporate and business databases to get you started. 

Helpful Industry Resources

For more in-depth information regarding corporate research, take a look at the WSU Libraries Company Research Library Guide. 

Find Newspapers & Trade Publications

Newspaper and Trade Publications

  • Newspaper Source - This database provides selected full text coverage for 245 newspapers, newswires and other sources.
  • Nexis Uni - An excellent source for searching for information within state/regional/US newspapers (including the New York Times) as well as English-language foreign newspapers and foreign language newspapers. 
  • Washington State newspaper resources (NewsBank/Readex) - Includes many Washington State newspapers including the Seattle Times and the Moscow Pullman Daily News.

For more info, see the WSU Libraries News and Newspaper Research Guide

Quick Reading List

Guenthner, H.R. (1977). Oat varieties for Idaho. Agricultural Experiment & UI Extension Publications, University of Idaho Library Digital Collections. See article here.

Janovich, A. (2023, July 31). Oats. Washington State Magazine.  See article here. 

Janovich, A. (2023, July 31). Oats then and now: Q&A with an expert. Washington State Magazine. See article here.

Morrison, K.J., Bacon, L. & Bruehl, G.W. (1969). Cayuse oats. Washington State University. Cooperative Extension. See article here.

Winkler, L. R., Murphy, K. M., & Jones, S. S. (2016). The history of oats in Western Washington and the evolution of regionality in agriculture. Journal of Rural Studies, 47, 231–241. See article here.

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