June, 2020

Gluten free oat farming requires commitment and expertise from farmers

Mikko Hölsö’s farm in Ylistaro farms gluten free oats. Although farming gluten free oats sets certain requirements for the farm and various work phases, and demands commitment and expertise from the farmer, its popularity has steadily increased in recent years.

A crop requiring more effort also brings better income for the farm: the price of gluten free oats on the market is around 40 per cent higher than foodstuff-grade oats, and a quality surcharge may also be added on top.

The farming contract for gluten free oats states that no crops containing gluten are farmed, processed in a dryer, or stored on the farm. The combine harvester must also be reserved purely for gluten free crops.

Gluten free oat farms only farm oats and some other gluten free preceding crops in rotation, such as pulses or oleiferous plants. This year on the Hölsö farm, peas were also sown alongside oats. Wheat, barley, and rye all contain gluten and have no place on a gluten free oat farm.

Kesä kaura
Mikko Hölsö Myllärin

A varietally pure seed aids weeding work

A farm that farms gluten free oats will invest as much as possible in a pure sowing seed so that no foreign species are introduced to the field. Varietal purity can be checked on the seed’s assurance certificate.

The Hölsö farm uses only certified seeds or its own seeds proven to be pure. If there were any foreign species among the seeds, it would mean plenty of weeding for the farmer.

”Plant populations are in any case checked for foreign species around four times during the growing season between stem growth and threshing.  The checks are carried out by walking systematically through the field in rows around 15 metres wide and then weeding any foreign species, along with their roots, into a plastic bag,” says Mikko.

Gluten free oats are gluten free from field to fork

The varietal purity and thereby food safety of a grain is of the utmost importance to the consumer. A product sold as gluten free must be gluten free. If any other crops besides gluten free oats were processed on the farm, all of the harvesting equipment and dryer would have to be thoroughly cleaned between uses. The Hölsö farm has its own designated equipment for processing gluten free oats, so this phase does not require any special effort – regular equipment cleaning is enough.

“After threshing, the grain is dried in its own dryer, and after that the grain is moved to a metal storage silo. There are several storage silos and they are all sealed,” says Mikko.

Precise bookkeeping is practiced for every batch of dried grain, and representative advance samples are taken. Advance samples are sent to Helsinki Mills for analysis, and only grain that has passed the advance test may then be delivered to the mill.

“Transport takes place using well-known transport companies’ vehicles, which are specialised in grain transport and we trust in the cleanliness of their equipment,” says Mikko.

The following quality requirements are set for Helsinki Mills’ food-grade oats:

  • the grain must be dried sufficiently so that it has a maximum moisture content of 14 per cent
  • the grain must be sufficiently heavy so that its hectolitre weight is a minimum of 56 kilograms
  •  the grain must be sufficiently large; grains are sieved through a 2-millimetre sieve. Small grains are not used in food production.
  • the grain must be ripe with a healthy colour and free from unwanted smells and mould
  • the grain must be varietally pure with no foreign species
  • the grain must not mix with allergens such as soy, nuts, lupins, or celeriac during farming, drying, storage or transport.

In addition, good agricultural practices must be following when farming, and only products that are approved for use on foodstuffs may be used for fertilising and plant production. The grain must meet national and EU legislation for foodstuffs.

Kesä Hölsö pelto