Is Oat Milk Really, Really Sustainable?
Updated: Jan 27, 2021
We learned a little over a week ago from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that 2020 was the second hottest year on record. A trend that is growing all too familiar in the twenty first century. It is becoming increasingly apparent that we require innovative leadership in a variety of industries; the food and beverage industry is a fantastic place to start. Let's talk about milk.
When it comes to sustainability for the sake of this post, we will focus on fresh water usage. Why fresh water? It makes sense to look at the resource accounting for the majority of our product. Plant-based milks are mostly made up of water. Milk from an almond is more than 95% water, quite similar to oat milk. However, there is a lot more water used before the product is packaged and in the refrigerator.
Almonds grow on trees in drought-ridden California. Production of almonds has arguably contributed to the ongoing drought. According to the UCSF, "commercial almond production in California requires diverting ground and surface waters from the state’s aqueduct system for irrigation." They go on to state:
"The ground in the San Joaquin Valley, where most almonds are grown, is already sinking each year due to groundwater depletion, so additional wells farmers are building to irrigate new orchards may have devastating long-term impacts for California and its residents who rely on groundwater as a source for drinking water."
On the other hand, oats grow wild on the Canadian Prairies from rain water alone. In other words, they don't generally require irrigation to grow. The Irrigation Crop Diversification Corporation surveys the three biggest irrigation districts around Lake Diefenbaker, Saskatchewan every year. These three districts are made up of over 69,000 acres. Between 2013 and 2016, the proportion of oats grown under irrigated conditions never reached more than 2%. After 2016, oats were combined with barley, together accounting for 2.7% of the irrigated land usage in 2020. You can see the data here, and view it below:
Oats 2013 – 0.5%
Oats 2014 – 0.4%
Oats 2015 – 1.6%
Oats 0116 – 0.4%
Barley/Oats 2017 – 3.9%
Barley/Oats 2018 – 1.9%
Barley/Oats 2019 – 1.1%
Barley/Oats 2020 – 2.7%
What does this tell us? It implies that oats are not a popular crop to grown under irrigated conditions on the Canadian Prairies, or at least in Saskatchewan. To have the Manitoba government tell it,
"The unique climate in Manitoba makes it one of the most productive places in the world to grow oats. The long warm days characteristic of the Canadian prairies coupled with adequate moisture levels provides producers with ideal oat-growing conditions."
Oats were made to be grown in Canada, no irrigation needed. Meanwhile, fresh water is becoming an increasingly valuable resource, especially in places like California. There is an obvious conclusion to draw from this knowledge, and it is that milk made from oats is significantly more sustainable than milk made from almonds. At Passionoat, we are embracing the opportunity to provide a sustainable milk alternative. We must build a more sustainable future together, and I hope you will make it with us.