John Hogarth Ltd, Oat Millers

Learn about the journey of oats.

Harvest time is a crucial time of year for the oat miller as this is the period where most of the oats secured for the mill are purchased. In this respect, the location of the mill at Kelso has been advantageous. It is surrounded by the fertile land of the Tweed River basin where many Border farmers have grown and sold their oats to the local mill for generations.

Douglas Veitch (Purchasing and Operations Director) says: “We have a core group of farmer growers whom we know well, and they supply the majority of the oats we mill at Kelso. We have worked with them for many years and they have been selected on the basis of their ability to supply us with the highest quality oats. David Thomson at Cessford Farm is a prime example; we purchased oats from his father at Cessford and now we purchase them from David. He knows exactly what we want and, being so close, we can even go to his farm and see the oats growing in his fields”.

At harvest time samples are taken from the farm to the mill to test their suitability for milling. The key quality criterion is that the oats have a bright colour and that they are plump and sweet smelling. The moisture content is also tested to confirm that the oats have been correctly dried and stored. Douglas says: “Once all the tests have been carried out and we are happy with the sample, we purchase the oats and they are then set aside for us to call off”. The company insists on high standards and all the farmer suppliers are members of quality assurance schemes, such as Scottish Quality Cereals.

As the season progresses, the farmers are advised when their oats will be collected, and when a load arrives at the mill it is meticulously checked again to make sure it is of a suitable standard. “We always know which farm our oats have come from” says Douglas, “and that’s important, so that we have complete traceability”. Once the load has been cleared it is tipped into a storage bin and from there it starts the milling process. Initially the grains are cleaned to pick out any small amounts of weed, seeds and straw. The oats are then steamed, kilned and cooled to bring out the flavour of the oat before they are shelled (de-hulled) to take off the husk. Finally, the groats (shelled oats) are colour sorted before they enter the last stage of the milling process where they are cut and either rolled to produce oat flakes or stone ground to produce the different grades of coarse (pinhead), medium and fine oatmeal.

When the milling process is completed, the various grades of oatmeal are tested against the customer specification to check they are suitable for dispatch. Nothing leaves the mill unless it passes the rigorous quality system audit, and this helps to make sure that our customers, including Nairn’s Oatcakes, receive the products they need.

Whole Grain Goodness