Time to sow Scottish wild oats and eat them - George Mackintosh

My new business partner Gregor Mackintosh, who is also one of my nephews, is off to Denmark this week as a delegate on an Opportunity North East [Scotland] mission to see how Denmark has achieved European leadership in food innovation. The Danes certainly have more global food and drink brands than Scotland and as an economy they outperform us on health, education, welfare, poverty and productivity indexes. But are they happier? Just checked: they are!

George Mackintosh is the Director of Papple Steading in East Lothian and the Chairman and co-founder of Mackintosh Oats

Gregor has served the Scottish economy well, having built the UK’s largest cold-pressed rapeseed oil business from scratch. It’s an operation proving to be ever more relevant to food supply chains since other plant oils are in extreme short supply because of the war in the Ukraine.

Our new venture in oat “milk” is responding to the upward consumption trend of plant-based drinks and the fact that there’s not a significant Scottish oat drink business. And, there are consumers in the other home nations and overseas countries who would appreciate a Scottish drink with a strict provenance to parallel Scotch whisky.

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Allen Walker Read in his book Agricultural History in 1934 reminds us of the observations of a famous English scholar: “The most notable association of a country with a certain food is that of Scotland with oats. The idea found its classic expression in 1755 when Samuel Johnson, in his Dictionary of the English Language, set forth his definition of the word oats: “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”" Get over being patronised by a Sachanach! Oats are as Scottish as whisky and oatcakes, porridge oats, brose…even better Atholl Brose. Eat up!

Rapeseed crops grown by Mackintosh of Glendaveny in Aberdeenshire will be a key ingredient in Mackintosh Oat's oat milk

Before my interests in agricultural heritage through our restoration of AJ Balfour’s Papple Steading, I used to lobby for British corporates to support tech start-ups by adopting digital inventions. That would help fledgling companies build a profitable home base and propel them toward international sales. That’s happening in places like Israel and the USA. Boy, it’s difficult to get the UK’s big businesses and public bodies to buy new stuff from small businesses. Now with the terrible strife in eastern Europe and the consequential upset to food supply and costs affecting us here in Scotland, we should consider supporting British food and drink produce.

Recently I saw 140,000 hectares being cleared in the north east of Brazil in only one municipal area which is located to the east of the Amazon Basin. Native shrubland is being mechanically torn down and burnt before modern farming techniques are used to grow crops – with two harvests in each calendar year. Soya is the main crop. Soya milk anyone?

We do have bodies that can help us compete with other agrarian economies. I’ve mentioned Opportunity North East and we have the SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) and Queen Margaret University. So, let’s not jump to regulate or finger-wag. That Brazilian farmer is a nice guy with a family to support. Let’s make decisions that are good for our health, good for the Scottish economy in creating more jobs and prosperity and good for our planet. Grow things that suit our land – rape seed oil, barley, oats, potatoes, carrots, and eat and drink the things we have in abundance. Cheers!

George Mackintosh is the Director of Papple Steading in East Lothian and the Chairman and co-founder of Mackintosh Oats

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