At Kialla, we mill 14 types of grains and seeds, and we will always seek to source these from Australian farmers. The only exception to this are the Finnish oats, because they really are the best in the world. This year we’ve also had to import rye from Finland, due to organic rye shortages in Australia.
We believe in supporting and encouraging our Aussie 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).
When there are shortages for us, there are shortages for all Australian grain suppliers. This means much competition amongst grain millers to buy what Aussie grains we can. Failure to secure grain in Australia means we need to import, because people should still have access to grains grown without pesticides and other industrial inputs.
The oats story: several years ago, after a very dry season, organic Australian oats were in short supply. We located oats in Finland and very quickly discovered that the quality of them was second to none. How do we know Finnish oats are the best? Those who consume our oats confirm this. So we made a decision to continue to import the Finnish oats, while still using Australian oats for oat groats.
Oats are a winter crop in Australia, but in Finland they are grown in summer, and for a very good reason. The Finnish summer days are 22 hours long so the oat plant gets light 22 hours 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.
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.
In February 2014 we visited Finland and met with the millers who process the oats, and with Ann-Brit, one of the oat farmers. As you’ll see by the photos, it was very cold and there were no oats growing. Half of her 160 hectare farm will be planted with oats, in April or May and harvested in September. The other half will lie fallow or be planted with legumes to restore the soil.
Unlike Australian oats, Finnish oats are harvested while they still have a very high moisture content, and they will need to be dried back to about 12% before going to the mill. Every farmer has a drying shed for this purpose.
At the mill, the oats are de-hulled and steamed then rolled flat to produce what are known as ‘rolled oats’. About 10% of the oat hulls are used to power the mill, while the remainder are returned to the farm for compost.
It is actually quite common in the Nordic countries to use the hulls and chaff to generate power on the farm, a very sustainable approach to agricultural byproducts.
Read more about our visit to Finland, and about how the oats are processed, on our blog.