The new variety is called naked oat because it is completely hull-less when harvested. It's also a hair-less oat, which makes it easier to work with. Those two traits are what make this oat so innovative and unique. "(Burrows) had the dream to breed this particular type of oat and went about doing it," says Sigvaldason. "When he retired the project slowed down to a crawl. I stumbled across it and tried it. We ended up taking off with it."
Sigvaldason planted some of the seed, had the oats tested and discovered they were high in beta glucans, fibre, iron, potassium and protein. They're also a good rice replacement and are gluten-free. He called them Cavena (naked oats) or Rice of the Prairies.
Sigvaldason went to market with the new oats in 2009, but barely made a ripple in the industry until he was featured on the CBC show Dragons' Den, when the product took off. Then in early April 2011, the market exploded again after a 10-minute segment on the Quebec TV show La Semaine Verre. Sigvaldason says they had to expand their website's bandwidth every day for four days to accommodate the interest. They also overwhelmed their distributor with shipments for three weeks straight.
As for Burrows, he came out to see the crops two years ago and was in awe. Sigvaldason says he took Burrows to a restaurant where they served Cavena and Burrows was so thrilled he had his picture taken with the menu. He didn't think he'd live to see it happen.
According to Sigvaldason, the oats have attracted interes from around the world. They require little processing before they're ready for consumption and he predicts it could be a big crop for Western Canada. And instead of growing rice in a rice paddy in a tropical climate, he says, these oats could be grown in temperate regions.
"It's evolved from one step on to the next," notes Sigvaldason. "And now I've been asked to speak in Europe to an audience about it. I'd never even been to Vancouver before. It's a pretty unbelievable change for a little farmer from Manitoba."-Deanne Rosolen
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