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Cutting emissions in the oat sector, a case study

11 July 2024

Oats are highly valued for being both nutritious and offering significant health benefits. As a crop its green credentials are well known, giving good yields in less productive soils and requiring less inputs than other crops. However, all food sectors are under pressure to become more sustainable from seed to shelf oat production is no different with processors and growers finding ways to reduce emissions.

Hamlyns of Scotland take in around 80,000 tons of oats from Scottish farms each year, producing oatflakes and oatmeal including standard, gluten-free and organic options to a range of retailers and even other companies for further processing into more specialised products.  The process is hugely energy intensive, from intake right through to packaging for delivery to the consumer or retailer. But Hamlyns have found three key ways to reduce their emissions:

  • Harnessing wind power
  • Moving to more renewable paper packaging and reducing plastics overall
  • Moving from oil to gas as their primary source of energy

The Process

Oat processing is a hugely energy intensive process- from intake right through to packaging for delivery to the consumer or retailer.

Quality control is vital, with bushel weight and moisture content tested and in terms of appearance a nice broad oat is preferred to a thin one. After being passed, the oats can then be processed. As oats are wholegrain, the kernels or groats need to be removed from the husks by entering a rotating drum with the spinning action allowing the groat to spring from the husk, with the husks then going for animal feed. The oats are then dried in kilns to remove any remaining natural moisture and prolong shelf life. In addition, the process gives the oats a nutty flavour and their attractive golden colour. The oats are then ready to be milled into porridge oats or oatmeal. Different grades and textures use different equipment – pinhead oatmeal is produced using steel blades with medium and fine grade oatmeal ground using stone wheels. Porridge oats are first steamed then rolled, with the gap between the rollers determining the thickness of the porridge oats.

The processed oats then head off for packaging.  Whether it is small packs for retailers right up to large one tonne bags for further processing by other food manufacturers and caterers, Hamlyn’s oats are popular both in the UK and abroad.

The whole process consumes significant amounts of energy from powering the de-husking and milling parts of the mill to the generation of heat in the kilns and steamers as well as all the other power requirements elsewhere in the mill. Other sources of emissions can also be found in the packaging materials.

3 ways they’re reducing emissions

There are three main changes that Hamlyns have made to their process to make it more sustainable.

First, they’ve harnessed wind power. Being in the north-east they have been able to tap into one of the most plentiful natural resources in the area. In 2012, the business installed a 2.3 MW turbine, and they are able to sell any excess energy produced to the national grid.

Second, they have taken a look at their packaging and are moving increasingly to replacing plastics and using recyclable paper packaging for their supermarket lines.

Finally, they’ve made the move from oil to gas. In the last decade the business has switched its main fuel from oil to cleaner gas despite the necessity to install 5 miles of pipelines.

While these decisions all help make the business more efficient, sustainable and cut emissions, they also all have one other thing in common- they all made financial sense. Alan Meikle, Managing Director, stressed the importance of this – oat processing is a very competitive market and just like farming businesses there needs to be a business case for making the change to a greener production method.

Future changes – oat husks as fuel

The business has looked into finding ways of using the oat husks to provide heat as fuel for the steam boilers as opposed to being transported off site and around the country as animal feed. Technology is ever evolving and over the next few years this will provide another exciting opportunity.


Tips on reducing your own carbon footprint

How can an oat farmer reduce their carbon footprint? We asked Dr Sandy Cowan, a Research Scientist with IBERS, University of Aberystwyth for his tips on getting the best oat crops and ultimately those that are most efficient in utilising their inputs and with the lowest emissions or carbon footprints.

  • Rotation- grow oats ideally no more than one year in four at a site.
  • While capable of being grown on poor sites, more fertile sites need careful use of growth regulators and fertiliser timings to avoid lodging.
  • Oats like moisture so may struggle on very free draining soils but this can be farm specific.
  • Sowing dates- winter oats by last week September, Spring Oats as soon as the ground is ready, typically end of March, early April.
  • Yields- generally Winter Oats will produce 9t/ha, Spring Oats 7t/ha although this will vary from farm to farm and also the growers experience.
  • Lower inputs are required – refer to FAS TN731 for Nitrogen, FAS TN715-718 for Phosphate and Potash. Too much Nitrogen can compromise quality so need to be aware of contract specifications.
  • Choose a variety with good disease tolerance to mildew and crown rust, refer to the recommended list and your agronomist.


If you have any questions, you can contact the FAS advice line for free by emailing or calling 0300 323 0161.

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