23rd June we met with Whites at Abbey Home Farm for our annual oat update meeting. Unfortunately it was rather sparsely attended for what one person described as a "really interesting day that all oat growers would have benefitted from".
As you may have heard Sean has left White's Oats and Steven McAllister, is taking over Sean's role of co-ordinating their oats supply chains. Steven was joined by Emma Murray who is the new Brand Manager for Whites. Emma was over to learn more about organic farming and the farmers who supply White's Oats to help her strengthen the organic brand. She is working on new product development too which is an area of investment for White's ahead of the new mill coming available. The healthiness of oats is meaning that there are opportunities for oats to be used in foods for those consumers seeking to reduce meat and dairy consumption.
Steven spoke about the high quality of the 2022 harvest which has been the best to date and so a huge, "Thank You" to all growers for your hard work and for following the advice provided. This will have ensured better mill efficiency and has perhaps helped to offset the high price paid. The work White's have done over recent years focusing on grain quality has highlighted the benefits that better quality oats deliver for them and so the excellent quality this season is hopefully showing that the quality focus is starting to have a really positive effect. It has also highlighted that the poorer oats are over-valued and the better quality oats are under-valued and so there will be a review of premiums are structured to reflect this.
The market has been challenging but Whites have maintained strong sales although the high contract price has made more recent sales harder to achieve against lower priced offers from competitors. The relationship with Aldi remains very strong and the growth in the "discounters" in the UK retail market has supported White's Oats organic oat flake sales and they supply Aldi's Kavanagh brand which has performed well. It's great that our oats are available from Waitrose to Aldi as they have the widest possible demographic of shopper across that spread of retailers.
One area of concern Steven raised was the potential change in the regulations around oat mycotoxins T2 & HT2. The reason for concern is that the testing done to date has indicated that 60% of samples tested would fail so this is a potential problem. There is a need to lobby to explain that the regulation is unnecessary as the mycotoxin sits on the husk and so does not affect the groat but it is not something that can be ignored. OA and White's will be seeking to test samples from this season's trials to seek to understand any varietal or regional differences. We have approached AHDB to help support this work and we are awaiting confirmation they will do so.
Steven also update us on the new mill Whites are hoping to build. Although planning permission has been granted approval and more importantly capital needs to be provided by Fane Valley Farmers, the co-operative that own White's Oats. Hopefully this will be forthcoming shortly and the aim is that the mill will be operational for harvest 2025.