WELL-KNOWN Fife farmer, Gordon Rennie, has been in New Zealand in recent weeks. In the first of a series of articles for The SF, he takes a sideways look at what's happening in that great country ...

YOU KNOW things are changing when Air New Zealand launches a meat free burger on some flights!

The airline had teamed up with Silicon Valley food tech start-up company, Impossible Foods, to become the first airline to serve the 'Impossible Burger'. Key ingredient is the iron containing molecule heme which is found in the roots of soya plants.

According to Air NZ’s customer experience manager, Niki Cleave, the non-meat burger 'has been extremely popular with customers.' Those who think this is a fad, will be making a big mistake. Whilst only a small minority may ever move to a vegan diet, millions are moving to a flexitarian one. Companies such as Moving Mountains claim that their plant-based meat 'requires less land, water, and produces less greenhouse emissions than what comes from producing a regular portion of animal meat.'

Closer to home, you just have to pop in to your local supermarket to see how large the shelf space devoted to plant-based milk drinks, as an alternative to cows' milk, have become. The trend away from animal to plant-based foods is unstoppable and it is only going to gain more momentum.

This is good news for Scotland’s arable farmers. We have a vast new market to satisfy.

Oats are Scotland’s national and native crop and we can grow the best oats in the world, plus oats are fantastic for human health. They contain beta glucan which lowers cholesterol and learnt from work in New Zealand that one acre of oats will produce more oat milk than if that acre were to be in grass and devoted to producing cows milk.

A company in New Zealand is about to build a $38m oat milk factory in the south of the South Island and I would be amazed if Quaker – which is owned by Pepsi Co – based in Fife, will not be looking at doing the same.

The market we in Scotland should be aiming for is the oat 'milk' one. Baristas will tell you this is by far the best alternative to cows' milk. Indeed, some of the largest coffee chains use their own brand oat milk.

Adrian Russell, who owns the plant breeding company Plant Research, based just south of Christchurch, has bred a new variety of oats called Southern Gold. I , along with the James Hutton Institute, Dundee, have been growing Southern Gold for the past three years. and the good news is that it has outperformed every other variety of oat in terms of yield and standing power.

But Adrian had some quite phenomenal news for me. He had sent a batch of L5 oats to a laboratory in Singapore along with pure New Zealand water to be tested as an oat drink. The results were quite amazing.

Every other variety of oats when made into a liquid oat drink have that typical 'porridge' colour and look nothing like cows' milk. That was until they tested L5 and the oat drink really did look like cows' milk. This has made huge companies in NZ, such as Oatley, take notice.

Three years of trials on my farm have proven that farmers in Scotland would welcome growing Southern Gold on their farms for good agronomic reasons. Given that Scotland has some of the purest water in the world – dare I say even more pure than most NZ water – we have a golden opportunity for a whole new local industry.

We are ideally placed to meet the demands of the growing army of consumers who want to eat and drink only plant-based products from a sustainable source.

Soya milk is bad news for our planet, as growing demand may mean we lose even more rain forest, cut down to grow the beans. And, I do not believe we can ever plant enough coconut trees.

So, only oat milk made from oats grown in Scotland and pure Scottish water will have the provenance and traceability that modern consumers expect and demand. They will pay a premium for it.

Forget your Brexit blues the future is good the future will be plant-based. We as farmers have a fantastic chance to take part.