An oat breeding programme led by Plant Research (NZ) Ltd is the inaugural recipient of research funds from New Zealand producer, Otis Oat Mi!k. Established last year, The 1% Fund captures one percent of the plant-based milk maker’s total sales to fund New Zealand projects and initiatives that make oats a viable and exciting farming alternative.
Otis co-founder Chris Wilkie says the sustainability initiative was established to help New Zealand farmers diversify their operations by supporting them to grow oats.
He says Plant Research was awarded the monies to support an established oat breeding programme ensuring New Zealand-grown oats remain nutritionally superior to other varieties in the world and to maximise land use by way of increased oats per hectare.
“With climates changing we feel more than ever this New Zealand breeding programme is critical for creating greater weather- and pest-resilient breeds, and higher-yielding oats for Kiwi farmers which are less reliant on synthetic fertilisers. Most importantly, we want to dial up the healthy dietary fibre that our milk contains, the beta-glucan.”
Wilkie says at the heart of the fund, is a commitment to help Kiwi farmers lead the way in farming for the 21st century.
“We want to help find a way for farming in New Zealand to be more diverse, more plant-based and one that works in harmony with nature, not against it.
Wilkie says while he hails from a farming background, there isn’t anything better than taking the time to listen and learn from those living it day to day.
“The fund is our vehicle every year to be able to reconnect with the ecosystem and find where we can best play a part in helping to make oats a viable farming alternative.”
Founded by Wilkie and Tim Ryan in 2018, Otis Oat Mi!k has a strong underlying philosophy that food has the power to change the world.
The plant-based business already works closely with the New Zealand Oat Industry Group (OIG), Harraways, and around 50 arable farmers who operate a crop rotation system.
“A farmer may typically rotate from grazing pasture to oats for an autumn harvest, followed by barley and peas and then to a ryegrass seed crop or vegetable, and back to pasture. This healthy cyclic farm management provides the soil with constant variants while each crop performs a different duty. The oats act as a natural ‘catch crop’ for excess nitrogen that might be in the soil, preventing any runoff entering waterways,” says Ryan.
While Ryan acknowledges that oats are no silver bullet, the tiny grain has superfood properties and huge potential as an alternative to dairy products.
“Oat mi!k is the perfect mi!k for the future. Research globally shows oat mi!k’s footprint is much lighter; producing one litre of oat mi!k requires 11 times less land and 13 times less water than producing one litre of dairy mi!k. That one litre of oat mi!k also emits three and a half times fewer greenhouse gas emissions than its dairy equivalent.
“The humble oat has come full circle, it started out as a heritage crop but it is now back in global demand due to its rapid rise as the preferred mi!k in a Flat White. We think these are compelling reasons to start diversifying our agriculture mix and for there to be greater investment in dairy alternatives, including giving consumers a reason to support New Zealand oat farmers.”
He acknowledges farmers are challenged by supply chain cost hikes and increased regulation to combat climate change while meeting the nation’s climate pledges.
“As a company, we want to step up and try our best to offer small solutions to our industry, and getting behind this vital research could be the key to its success.”