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Farmer starts oatmeal company after feeling cheated by commodity crops

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Most South Dakota farmers grow and sell commodity crops like corn and soybeans, which they sell to processors. But a Brown County farmer has decided to cut out the middleman.

Taylor Sumption and his brothers farm oats just north of Aberdeen. They recently decided to package, store and distribute oatmeal at a new facility built near the farm. They’re selling the oats online and in a few grocery stores.

The Sumptions started their company, Anthem Oats, because they felt cheated selling crops and grains on the commodities market. Taylor said the system doesn’t benefit farmers.

“New genetics, and all these things, have come about to raise yields and do great things — but it seems like if there’s an extra dollar in it, every company that’s involved in that process takes a little piece of it and at the end of the day the farmer is no better off, or even worse off than he was when it all started.”

Oats are selling at about $7 per bushel — that’s high. But that’s not going to stop Sumption from making oatmeal.

“I knew when we started this that there would be times where it made more sense to just sell oats out on the market — and it was the first year we were in production,” Sumption said. “We’re actually not making as much money milling and selling our own oatmeal right now because the oat market is so high. We’d be better off just to sell it, but you know, the whole reason we started this wasn’t for the years when the prices were high, it’s for the years when oats are $2.50 a bushel again, and we’re wondering how to make money.”

Packaging their grain isn’t the only thing that makes the Sumptions’ setup unusual. Not many people are growing oats in South Dakota.

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Thirty years ago, South Dakota was growing around 27 million bushels of oats. But by 2000, that number was down to about 7 million.

Jack Davis is a crops business specialist with SDSU Extension.

Davis said even with record-high prices for small grains like oats and wheat, it’s unlikely South Dakota farmers will move away from corn and soybeans — the state’s two biggest crops.

“Part of it is that the revenue guarantees, as corn and soybean yields have increased, have become really good compared to small grains. So it is hard for them to go back to doing small grains,” Davis said.

In 2021, South Dakota farmers harvested 56,000 acres of oats — compared to more than 5 million acres of soybeans.

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