The fight to find organic flour

by Charlotte Atchley
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grain handling
Even though consumer demand for organic food has grown over the years, supply of organic crops has not been able to keep up.
 
Demand for organic products has been growing by double digits since the 1990s, according to the Organic Trade Association. Mintel considers non-GMO to be one of the fastest-growing claims with 44% of new food products between 2013 and 2016 claiming to be non-GMO.

Despite this, farmers haven’t kept up the supply of USDA-certified organic wheat or Non-GMO Project verified corn and other grains. (Wheat is not a genetically modified crop.)

“The biggest challenge around sourcing organic flours and seeds is overall supply,” said Harold Ward, director of technical service and product applications at Bay State Milling Co. “A good example of this would be organic wheat. Of the wheat planted in the U.S., less than 1% is organic. Much smaller supply means less choice from the standpoint of functionality and other target characteristics.”

Offsetting supply issues

Organic and non-GMO certifications are expensive and time consuming to achieve even though those ingredients sell at a premium. Growers must make a significant commitment to and investment in the transition from conventional farming to organic and non-GMO crops, not to mention the transition period before farmers can see a return on their investment. These barriers to entry mean that the supply of organic wheat and non-GMO grains is slim compared to conventional.

bread
Demand for organic bakery products has been growing since the 1990's.
 
Additionally, if there is a tough year for crops, flour suppliers have less organic supply to offset undesirable characteristics.

“Because we’re talking about working with a much smaller supply of wheat, in a given crop year, you could see lower or higher protein levels or ­possibly substantial changes in functional characteristics such as absorption or mixing tolerance,” Ward explained.

These issues still happen with conventional crops, but because of the vastness of that supply, millers can overcome those issues with blending to provide bakers consistent flour. The smaller the supply, the more difficult it becomes to meet these bakers’ needs.

Ward doesn’t believe this will be a permanent issue for organic bakers. Consumer demand and support from millers will push farmers to grow more fields organically. In the meantime, however, he encouraged bakers to be mindful when formulating for organic ingredients.

wheat
A troublesome growing season may lead to a smaller supply of organic flour.
 
“Build formulas that are adaptable and robust enough to cope with possible changes,” he said. “Keeping an open mind when it comes to process adjustments and using ingredients that will enhance functionality or provide needed protein is very important. I also suggest partnering with your supplier so you have a clear line of sight to current crop characteristics as well as what is on the horizon.”

Bay State Milling’s product applications and R&D teams work with bakers to develop products using these organic ingredients and are available to help address these potential issues.

Ardent Mills anticipates that its organic program will expand to support an organic supply chain for the baking industry.

“Our extensive organic grower network, milling and storage locations allow us to provide a consistent reliable and quality organic flour that bakers can count on,” said Shrene White, ­general manager, The Annex by Ardent Mills. “It’s a good time to come into organic.”

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