Tour the Hal Ross Flour Mill at K-State

(Jim Shroyer) Good morning folks, welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host and we’re in luck because we’re at the Hal Ross Mill on the campus of Kansas State University and we’re going to be speaking to Shawn Thiele, the operations manager about the flour mill and basically how the flour mill works. I think you’re going to enjoy it so stay tuned, we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

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(Jim) Good morning folks, welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host. With us we have Shawn Thiele, the plant manager here at the flour mill in K-State and, Shawn, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule and kind of walking us through the mill here. Tell us a little bit about it. It’s brand–well it’s new, what, two, three years ago? And tell us a little bit about it. (Shawn Thiele) Thank you, Jim. Two or three years would be nice, but this mill was actually built in 2005, so this is the Hal Ross Flour Mill. (Jim) Time flies when you’re having fun. (Shawn) Yes, it does. It’s actually replacing the older school mill that’s in main campus in Shellenberger Hall. (Jim) I remember that one. (Shawn) This is fully automated. It was a state of the art mill, still is very new, very state of the art compared to a lot of flour mills, but age-wise going on almost 12 years old. There are newer things out there but we’re very fortunate to have this milling location here at Kansas State University. (Jim) What’s the purpose of the mill here at K-State? (Shawn) This mill is primarily a school mill. We use it most of the time for teaching. We’re training undergraduate students in the milling science and management program how to take raw grains and mill them down into a base product or a finished product. Primarily here, the flour mill, we’re taking wheat and milling it into flour. (Jim) What happens with that flour after it’s milled? Is it sold? (Shawn) Some of it’s sold through our milling science club locally to local businesses or people that know about it. Most of it is donated, though. I like to say we’re here to make quality flour millers and not as much quality flour for commercial-scale baking. (Jim) Shawn, this is kind of a one of a kind type of milling operation attached to the university. (Shawn) Yes. This is pretty unique. The mill itself is a commercial flour mill so we can commercially produce flour if we went down that route. The program, though, is very unique, so Kansas State University is the only school in the US that offers a Bachelor Degree of Science in Milling Science. Very unique for a university to have a commercial flour mill tied to it for training purposes like this. (Jim) What’s the capacity, how does this mill stand in relationship to say other mills in the state or locally? (Shawn) Yes. We would call this mill in the US a 400-weight per day mill. Or 40,000 pounds of flour per day, we could produce here. Size-wise relative to commercial mills, we are 20 to 30 times smaller depending on which mill you’re comparing against. (Jim) That’s the difference of educational effort versus the monetary or economic effort, so to speak. (Shawn) Correct. We could go bigger, but the bigger you go, the more wheat you have to use, the more cost you have associated with teaching. There’s drawbacks to going larger as well as benefits training wise. (Jim) Shawn, we got to take a break. Folks, stay with us. We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors. See you in a minute.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, and Shawn Thiele didn’t run off during that last break, he wanted to but I held on to him. Shawn, you’re a farm boy from Norton County, how in the world did you get involved with grain science, milling, as opposed to going back to the farm and farming? (Shawn) Well, Jim, it’s a good question. I knew I wanted to go to K-State and I wasn’t sure what I was going to pursue at the time. I heard about milling science through a friend of mine and jumped into that field and stuck with it since. It’s a pretty unique program and it’s not well known throughout the world. A lot of our recruiting efforts do come from people that are in the milling industry and know about K-State. We have roughly 74 students right now in the program, freshman through senior, and we only graduate about 15 to 20 students per year. (Jim) You’re not flooding the market by any stretch of imagination? (Shawn) No, we are not. The industry would love if we could provide more students. Currently, we’ve been 100% job placement for all of our students out of the program since the ’70s. (Jim) Wow, you probably could throw a plug now for the kids out there that are watching that hey, come to K-State and get into grain science. (Shawn) Yes, grain science is very beneficial. It’s harder and harder to get jobs these days. It seems that out of college, milling science has definitely provided the job placement and also very higher starting salaries for students. (Jim) What are we talking about, all that? (Shawn) Roughly $65,000 to $75,000 per year. (Jim) With a BS. (Shawn) With a bachelor’s of science, correct. (Jim) That’s pretty impressive. Now, I’ve looked in that curriculum before and I was impressed with the rigor of it. (Shawn) Yes, Jim. There’s a lot of math and a lot of science. It goes along with the milling science curriculum. The important thing to think about is we’re making food for human consumption and some food for animal consumption as well. It’s very important for the students to learn everything that goes along with that to keep people and animals safe and produce healthy products. (Jim) Right. That’s a good point. Now, we think of flour mill just in Kansas, hard red winter wheat. You are able to do more than just hard red winter wheat here. (Shawn) Correct. This mill was designed to mill all six classes of US wheat. We can mill the hard red winter wheats, all the way to durum wheats, spring wheats and soft wheats. (Jim) You do corn, soybeans from time to time? (Shawn) Yes, we have experimented through changing sives out the sifters and doing some other manipulations with the mill. We’ve successfully been able to mill sorghum, red and white sorghum, white and yellow corn and some soybeans at Ross Mills as well. (Jim) This is mainly educational again; get their hands dirty, so to speak. (Shawn) Correct. With the other grains we’re primarily teaching the process and how you mill it differently. Efficiency-wise aren’t going to be as good on a wheat flour mill when you’re milling corn versus mills set up for those types of grains. (Jim) Thanks, Shawn. Hey, we’ve got to take a break, folks. Stay with us. We’ll be right back from these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. Shawn Thiele, the operations manager here at the flour mill at K-State is with us. Shawn, take us through the whole process from the grain that comes in. Farmers think they are bringing in to the elevator perfectly clean grain. Probably is not as good as they think. It’s good but not to be run through the mill, right? (Shawn) Correct, Jim. All of the grain gets cleaned before it’s milled. It’s a pretty simple process to explain, all of the sciences get into the details when you’re actually running the mill and optimizing your efficiencies. In general, the first thing we’re doing is receiving the dirty grain from the elevators or the farmers directly. The next step before milling would be cleaning. All wheat would be cleaned through a number of different cleaning pieces of equipment using different principals of separation. Our goal is to remove all, what we call, non-wheat material and non-millable wheat. Non-wheat materials will be everything easy to see, gloves, cell phones, sticks, and stems. (Jim) I bet that does come though, doesn’t it? (Shawn) It does. Rocks, other grains, corn or whatever it may be in with the wheat. We’ll remove all non-wheat material. Then we’ll remove non-millable wheat. Non-millable wheat is infested grain maybe that has bugs that are bored into it, diseased wheat, wheat that has micro toxin or something like that on the soft wheat side. Any non-millable wheat we’ll remove from the system in the cleaning step. (Jim) Okay. Then what’s next? (Shawn) After cleaning we condition. Millers never want to accept wheat over 13.5% or 14% moisture content for storage ability reasons. After we have the wheat and we’re ready to mill it, and it’s been through the cleaning system, we’ll do what we call conditioning and we’ll actually add moisture, we’ll add water to that wheat to raise that moisture content up. (Jim) You know exactly before it goes to–when it goes to the conditioning process, you know exactly what the moisture is and how much water to add? (Shawn) Correct. For hard wheat, we typically like to mill it around 16% to 17% moisture content. That provides a couple of advantages. It toughens the bran layers. It makes it more pliable and it softens the endosperm. For millers, their quality is all measured on how effectively they can remove the bran from the endosperm. The bran is a byproduct for millers when making white bread flour, if you’re making whole wheat flour it’s all milled back together. (Jim) It’s separated initially, and then put back in, right? (Shawn) There’s a couple of different ways to do it. That would be one of those, yes. Adding water makes that bran hold together better. When we’re grinding it, it doesn’t break apart and end up with the flour. That way we can remove it from the system. Then that endosperm mellows down or softens so when we grind it through the roller mills, it breaks down into those flour particle sizes you see here. (Jim) We have to take a break. Folks, stay with us. We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. Shawn Thiele, the operations manager here at the mill is with us. Shawn, we got into conditioning on this last segment. We talked about that a little bit. Take us on from conditioning. (Shawn) After the water’s added to the wheat, we’ve conditioned it, we gave it a little bit of time. Up to 24 hours typically for that water to absorb into the wheat kernel. Then it goes straight to the milling process. The milling process is where we’re making the flour, if you would. That’s where we’re grinding the wheat and getting that finished flour. It’s done through a few steps, but it’s a gradual reduction process. We’re very slowly and gradually opening up the grain kernel, breaking it apart. That starts with what we call our break systems. The first four to five roll stands is going to be opening up the wheat kernel and scraping away the endosperm from the bran layers. After that’s accomplished, the bran will exit the system and it will go to a byproduct bin. Then we’ll take that endosperm and will, what we call, purify it or clean any smaller bran pieces away from it before the clean endosperm goes to the reduction rolls. (Jim) Explain the reduction rolls a little bit to me. (Shawn) Yes. Reduction rolls are just two large metal rolls. They are grinding towards each other. You close them together; the endosperm goes through the center of them. Then you adjust your grinding pressure so that you can break that endosperm down into that fine powder that everybody knows as flour. (Jim) Okay. Milling is a science obviously, milling and the grain science. It’s also an art form as well. Wouldn’t you say? (Shawn) Correct. (Jim) You have to have some where-with-all to get it to the right product. What happens if it’s a little too tight on those rollers or too far out? What can happen there? (Shawn) There’s always flour specifications that the millers are aiming on. The bulk of the flour is sent to bakeries across US and they have a specific requirement for that flour. The millers will grind to maximize the amount of flour they can produce. Then they’ll do a lot of blending to meet specifications for bakers. One of those specifications is typically moisture. It’s got to be below 14% moisture content. Protein is a big one. Different proteins; flours will make different products. Then your ash content, which is the measure of how much bran contamination you have on that flour. (Jim) Take us on from the reduction then. (Shawn) From the reduction system, the milling system if you would, you’ve got your grinding, your sifting and your purification step. That’s what we walked through. It just continues. You just continue to grind, sift, purify or grind, sift, grind, sift until you’ve reduced that endosperm into flour. (Jim) The specification of whoever wants it. (Shawn) The flour is bent and the flour can be blended to meet specifications. (Jim) Shawn, thanks. I appreciate going through that with us. Folks, we have to take a break. Stay with us. We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer and with us we still have Shawn Thiele, the operations manager here at the mill. Shawn, we talked a little bit about, earlier that is, about the six classes of wheat that you can mill. Just remind us all what those are and what they are used for? (Shawn) The six classes of wheat are really broken down into a hard wheat, a soft wheat, or durum wheat. With the hard wheat, you have a hard red winter or a soft red winter. We’ve also got a hard white, a soft white, and then your durum wheat. Durum wheat is the hardest of all the wheat classes; it’s used primarily for pasta production. Your second hardest wheat would be your hard red spring and your hard red winter wheat classes. Those are going to have a higher protein content that are used for making breads. Your soft wheat classes, those are going to be the lowest protein content. Those are used to make cookies and pastries. (Jim) I’m getting hungry already. Good to remind us of what those all are. Kind of changing gears here a little bit. Tell us how this mill fits into the whole scope of the grain science department. (Shawn) Grain science and industry has a lot of industry support which is why you hear that the industry on the end of the department name. The other parts that make up the department would be the milling science and management. Bachelor of science degree we talked about. Also, the baking science degree and the feed science degree. The last component would be our IGP Institute, which houses our outreach, industry outreach, and training for distant education. (Jim) That aspect of it is not just–I think of Extension when you think of outreach and that sort of topic. But you’re talking about international as well with IGP, right? (Shawn) Correct. The big idea behind the IGP Institute is to bring the international visitors and professionals in and give them training on U.S. grains and also the U.S. processes on how we mill to better educate them in hopes that we can generate more export sales of U.S. grains to other countries. (Jim) You’re going to be moving over or you have a position over in IGP now as well. Tell us a little bit about that. (Shawn) I’m currently the flour milling and grain processing curriculum manager at IGP. I’ll teach flour milling short courses. There’s also distant education site for online courses at IGP. There’s also a feed manufacturing specialist over there, and a grain marketing and purchasing specialist at IGP. (Jim) For the time being, though, you’re wearing this hat, the milling operations hat and the hat over there as well? (Shawn) Correct. One of the great things about working at the university is you always get to expand into different roles which is fun. (Jim) [Laughs] That’s a good way of saying that’s an opportunity, right? (Shawn) There you go. (Jim) Shawn, I really appreciate you taking time and show us the mill. This is a wonderful educational tool. Folks, thanks for being with us and don’t forget, next week about this same time we’ll have another show of That’s My Farm. See you then.

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