From Field to Flour

Making quality wheat flour is a complex process – it involves far more than just grinding up the latest crop of kernels. The milling process itself actually plays a very minor role in getting the finished product to market. What's more important are factors such as where the wheat is grown and how different wheat crops are blended together. And because so many other variables are in play, the characteristics of each crop can vary substantially from season to season.

Wheat crops are heavily affected by climate, as well as regional variations such as sun, wind, rain and soil. Surprisingly, the type of wheat doesn't necessarily dictate a flour's characteristics – the variety of soil that wheat is grown in has a greater impact on the final flour product.

Consistency comes from managing variables
In spite of the ever-changing variables shaping the wheat crop, Horizon Milling produces consistent Progressive Baker® flours from year to year, thanks to an extensive survey process that begins in the fields and ends in our state-of-the-art Bake Lab.

Each year at the start of growing season, our crop evaluators visit wheat fields across the grain belt to get a sense for the size and shape of the current crop, as well as the potential impact weather conditions could have on the wheat’s quality. At harvest time, the Progressive Baker® brand technical team follows the harvest as it moves north from Texas, gathering wheat samples from fields along the way. By the time the field crew reaches Canada they will have gathered between 2000 and 5000 samples, which are then sent to the Bake Lab for analysis. In the lab, experts evaluate each sample and make assessments that help predict milling characteristics that can affect flour quality.

From there, this information is compiled into a database. It helps us determine which geographic areas are producing wheat with the attributes we know our customers are looking for, and shapes our blending process accordingly.

The market influences flour prices more than you might think
The global marketplace for wheat is just as dynamic as the wheat crop itself from month to month and year to year, with supply and demand heavily influencing U.S. wheat prices, and subsequently, the price bakers pay for flour. But supply and demand isn’t as simple as it sounds. According to the Kansas City Board of Trade, there are many factors – both domestically and abroad – that affect the supply/demand cycle, such as:

  • Crop size and crop conditions in the U.S. and other wheat-producing countries
  • Level of surplus or shortfall
  • Agricultural and economic policies in the U.S. and abroad
  • Worldwide demand for wheat
  • Domestic flour-milling needs
  • Relative strength of the U.S. dollar
  • ….and more