Organic gluten-free oats enterprise developed by Laois farmer

Organic gluten-free oats became an addition to a Laois farmer’s enterprise, after his daughter posed a question.

Kevin Scully from Vicarstown, converted the 90 plus acre farm to organic 12 years ago – with a beef enterprise made up of Wagyu cross Herefords.

“Oats have been growing on this farm for at least 80 years. My grand-uncle and my father grew them before me. l have been growing them for 12 years.

“I had been growing them for the cows until one morning my youngest daughter, Niamh, who was with me, asked what I was feeding the cows.

“I told her it was a kind of porridge, and Niamh asked could we eat it. I told her we could if we removed the hulls. That’s where the Merry Mill’s journey began.

I have done a lot of research into oat milling. I travelled to the Czech Republic to look at an organic mill outside Prague. After seeing the machine, I bought a similar style mill from Austria.

Gluten-free oats

As Scully has two nieces who are coeliacs, he has a good understanding of the condition.

“The gluten-free standard in Ireland is set at 20 parts gluten per million. Our oats are tested in a lab, and test below 5 parts per million. That is as low as the lab can test.

“Although some people see gluten-free as just a fad, if you are a child or an adult that has been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance or coeliac disease, you will know that it is a serious condition.

“At present we have 15ac for our oat production, but with potential to sow much more. We are operating an acorn oak tree model, start small and grow slowly with a good foundation.”

A certified organic farm, the Merry Mill’s produce is sold to customers through local health food stores and directly through its online shop, which delivers to anywhere in the Republic of Ireland. The output, which is between 50kg to 60kg a week, is growing steadily.

“There have been many challenges along the way,” Scully said. “The biggest to date was sourcing machinery for micro milling, as there are very few micro mills in Ireland.

We are still having teething problems with our equipment but we are working away through it.

“It is a very specialised operation, removing the hull from the groat and cleaning the oats. The world’s biggest know-it-all – Google – has been of great assistance. The next big challenge is marketing. You could have the best product in the world but if no one knows about it, you won’t sell it.

“Our aim is to have a sustainable business and create employment for our children, and possibly others, as well,” he concluded.