Quentin Kennedy, managing director at Kialla, writes about our visit to the home of oats.
While in Germany for Biofach (the world’s largest trade fair for organic food) at the beginning of the year, we popped up to Vaasa in northern Finland to visit the people who grow and process our rolled oats.
Why do we import oats form Finland, I hear you ask?
Oats are a winter crop in Australia, however in Finland they are grown in summer. The Finnish summer days are 20 hours long so the oat plant gets light 20 hrs per day – hence the plants don’t use much energy respiring at night time. This results in very unique growing conditions which contribute to the excellent quality oats we’re renowned for.
At Kialla, we always prefer to source grains from our local organic growers, because we really do believe in supporting and encouraging our farmers through all the varied seasonal conditions that Australian weather delivers. However, sadly for the farmers, sometimes crops fail (too little rain, too much rain, too much frost – it’s tough farming grains, which are very vulnerable to seasonal surprises).
We only import products when our Australian growers have crop failures. Our only continuous exception to this is our Organic Rolled Oats.
We have imported these from one supplier in Finland for many years purely because they are such excellent quality.
Here’s a fun fact – the Gulf Stream, a warm ocean current that flows off Norway’s west coast, provides Finland with a milder climate compared to other countries located so far north. This enables the Finns to be the largest agricultural producers that close to the Arctic circle.
We knew it would be very cold in February, and as you can see from our first glimpse of Finland through the plane window – there aren’t a lot of oats growing down there.
But, we don’t get over this way often, and thought we should take the opportunity as we’d never been to visit before.
The Oat Farmer
Ann-Britt Edberg is one of the farmers who grow those terrific oats for our rolled oat supplier. She is a fourth generation farmer and the farm has been in her family for over 200 years.
Total farm size is 160 hectares, about half of which is cultivated. The oats won’t be planted until April or May when the ground has warmed up a bit.
The red paint on all the farm buildings is made using a mixture of rye flour and glue – and has been used for hundreds of years. It preserves and protects the timber from the harsh elements. The oat growers in Finland have to harvest their oats at around 25% moisture so they get the crop off before there is too much rain, which tends to happen in September. Generally, in Australia a farmer waits until his crop dries out before harvest.
Oats are not stable at this high level of moisture, and have to be dried down to around 12% so they can be stored in silos. Therefore most farmers have their own drying facility – as seen in the pictures on the right. This sort of set up is very uncommon in Australia.
The oat miller
Next stop, the mill that produces those great rolled oats. Like Kialla, this mill is also a family owned business.
We thought we had a long history at Kialla, but this company was started in 1912 – and the family has been in the milling industry since 1550!!!
They have recently installed a system that burns the oat hull (the outside shell of the oat which is removed during the processing) to generate heat to fire their boilers and heat their building.
These boilers generate the steam to ‘steam stabilize’ the oat flake (this stops it going rancid).
Prior to this system, the mill was fired by a diesel burner which used 290 litres of fuel per day. Now they have a completely sustainable system fuelled with their by-product!! What a great environmentally friendly idea.
Even now they only use about 10% of the hulls – the rest go back onto the farms for compost.
The oats are delivered to the mill in small body trucks – there’s no room for B-Doubles likes in Australia! Generally oats are stored by the farmer until the mill needs them, or they’re stored at the large storage service providers located around the country.
In the photos, above, you can see the grain being delivered to the mill and being raked through the hopper grating to be conveyed into the mill.
Due to the low temperatures there is no issue with the stored organic grain becoming infested with weevils.
Following cleaning and de-hulling, the oats are steamed. As mentioned above, this process stabilizes the oils in the oats to stop them going rancid. They are then rolled flat and cooled (through the red machine). The small flakes are sieved off, and then the final rolled oats are bagged.
Quick oats go thru the same process but are rolled to a thinner flake – as a result the flake tends to break up more which give the quick oats a more ‘dusty’ or ‘broken’ appearance. However, the thinner flake cooks more quickly.
They are then stored awaiting dispatch – there’s no need for coolrooms in Finland to control pests.
Effectively the whole country is a giant coolroom at this time of year!!
Approximately 20 tonne of oats are loaded into a forty foot container to ship to Australia. Sailing time is around three to four weeks.
The oats arrive at Kialla
When the oats arrive at Kialla we re-pack them into our 1kg, 5kg and bulk sizes to distribute to customers.
The first step is to load the oats into our mobile stainless steel hoppers and deliver them, via the elevator hopper, to the packing station.
The elevator lifts the oats up to the multi-head weigher, which weighs and dumps the oats into the bags.
From here they are sewn and stacked on pallets ready for dispatch.
Do you love porridge? Visit our Perfect Porridge recipe to get some porridge tips.
See all our Organic Oat products in our products section.