Where Have All the Oats Gone?

(And What Happens to Ag Jobs When Alt-Protein Rises?)

Tractors and cars decimated the oat industry, but farmers still farmed.

In other words, oats’ biggest customers, horses, all of a sudden were obsolete. Or more accurately, humanity’s reliance on horses for labor was rendered obsolete, both on our farms and in our streets. As a result, major changes were afoot (ahoof?) for American oat farms.

But before we cry over all these spilled oats, rest assured it’s not as if the oat growers were totally out of luck. Yes, they would in coming decades still have Quaker Oats and Wilford Brimley to tout their bowel-cleansing benefits, but for those growers seeking a new market, the demise of horses coincided with a massive explosion in other farm animals. Rather than beasts of burden, the new ag economy was populated with increasing numbers of chickens, turkeys, cattle, and pigs — hundreds of millions and then billions of beaks and mouths to feed, not with oats, but with soybeans and corn. Consequently, the decline in oat production coincided with a sharp increase in those crops, which to this day have maintained a virtual hegemony in U.S. feed crop production. In other words: farmers still farmed, just different crops.

The economy is constantly changing, and to summon Wayne Gretsky, smart players are interested not just in where demand is today; they adapt to where it will be tomorrow. Rather than trying to arrest ag development in one particular point of time, we can acknowledge that times change, and so does the ag economy.

Indeed, we generally welcome advances in tech that make our lives better and could lighten our footprint on the planet, even if that means rearranging parts of our economy. The U.S. may no longer be the oat basket to the world, but our farming sector is still the envy of much of the planet — and will continue to be, so long as we continue embracing the innovations that will define the future of food.

Husband of Toni Okamoto. Author of nat’l bestseller Clean Meat. CEO of The Better Meat Co. Host of Business for Good Podcast. 4x TEDx speaker. Paul-Shapiro.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store