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I Know Wheat....Right? - Scott Huso, District 6 Commissioner

Posted: Apr 08 2022

I Know Wheat....Right? - Scott Huso, District 6 Commissioner

I grew up working on the Huso farm south of Aneta. We raised several different crops, but I remember wheat. I planted it, I sprayed it, I swathed it, I combined it. I knew it. And after several years away from the farm, I still knew wheat when I returned. At least I thought I did.

In February of 2009 I was elected as the Steele County representative to the North Dakota Wheat Commission, and in March of 2021, I was elected by the county reps for District 5 to be the Commissioner. I was very proud and still am. In addition to my knowledge of wheat from when I was a "young farmer", I wrote a thesis in the Ag Economics graduate program at NDSU that focused on the economic impact from a potential release of genetically modified wheat. I researched many companies that were involved with the wheat industry. I felt that I had the inside scoop. In addition to that, I have raised both Hard Red Spring and Hard Red Winter wheats on our farm. Who could have more knowledge than me???

Enter the International Grains Program (IGP) at Kansas State University. Another NDWC Commissioner, Jim Bahm and I had the opportunity to attend a Flour Milling Short Course in Manhattan, KS. The purpose of this course is to help participants understand the basic principles of flour milling and the relationship between wheat quality and performance. Our schedule was classroom time in the mornings and laboratory time in the afternoon. I was looking forward to learning some more about wheat, so I was ready for this course. At least I thought I was.

There were 12 attendees from wheat commissions across the central and western US. The leader of the course was Shawn Thiele, a graduate of Kansas State in Milling Science and Management with 11 years of experience in the milling industry.  Shawn is the associate director of IGP. After introductions, we dove into the course material. Almost instantly, I realized that this was going to be more intense than I had anticipated.

After a quick overview of global wheat economics, we jumped right into why we were there: to learn about flour milling. Mr. Thiele gave us education on cleaning wheat prior to milling. The main reason for cleaning is safety for employees, food safety, and the processing equipment. Also, dust and chaff control along with overall quality are key factors of why cleaning is so important. The types of cleaners used to separate unwanted material are numerous - and I mean numerous. But Shawn made it clear that clean wheat coming into the mill means higher quality flour leaving the mill. We then learned about conditioning, tempering, and the systems used to optimize those critical components to help maximize high quality flour production.

Before attending this course, I would've told you that milling is grinding the wheat, sifting it to obtain flour, then bagging the flour and selling it. Easy, right? In theory it is easy, but in functionality it is much more intricate. We were shown a milling flow diagram, and we continued to learn about milling systems and terminology. Little did we know that we were preparing ourselves to become the people who ultimately purchase the wheat grain we produce: millers.  And it wasn't the process I initially had in my head of "grind, sift, bag, sell." We went through several iterations with the roller machines to grind the kernel and we had several different sizes of screens to use to sift the products that come from the milling machines.

In mills, millers try to extract as much flour as possible and still meet customer specifications.  Sometimes that might be low to mid 70’s and sometimes that could be in the low 80’s as well. Generally speaking though, when making a refined white flour, the extraction rate is typically in the mid to upper 70’s.  The average extraction rate for U.S. mills in 2020 was 77.3%. 

We next covered the importance of quality of flour. It was very interesting to learn the demands of bakers for the detailed specifications they require in the flour they've contracted. Mr. Thiele gave a great presentation on the impact of wheat grade and quality on milling performance. Following that, we learned about wheat and flour blending. As farmers, we know that elevators consistently blend wheat to meet the contract specifications of who they are delivering to. Likewise, millers consistently blend wheat AND/OR flour to meet the contract specifications required by the purchaser. 

Dr. Debi Rogers discussed flour functionality and flour and dough testing. For this practical portion of the program, we needed to make a loaf of bread, cookies, and a cake. All of the dry ingredients were pre-mixed for us, but we had specific instructions for the rest of the process to arrive at the final products. The trick to this is that we used different types of flour to make the baked items.  Very interesting to see the differences by wheat class. 

And in the break room at the IGP Institute, I saw empty flour bags hanging on the wall. Interesting enough, I noticed a very special one to me; one that we haul our own hard red spring wheat to: The North Dakota Mill. 

I must say that I was humbled by this experience. In one sense, this course taught me that I do know quite a bit about wheat production. However, I was made aware that the process of milling our wheat is much more intricate and detailed than I imagined. End users have high demands for the flour that they use. Do you know where your wheat goes? Do you know where it is being milled? Do you know what products are being made with your wheat? It would be interesting to learn these answers.

I am very thankful to Shawn Thiele for his involvement in this course. His knowledge and experience with wheat milling helped connect us a step closer to our wheat users.  Also, for the other members of IGP who showed us the wonderful tools and information that are used to help educate wheat commissioners, government leaders, and international wheat and flour purchasers.

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