Brad Hover was fresh out of milling school, working for ConAgra Flour Milling, when he attended his first district meeting of the Association of Operative Millers.
"It made a big impact on me," said Hover, who is now ConAgra's vice-president of operations. "I really liked what I saw."
Twelve years later, Hover will become president of the AOM at the organization's 105th annual technical conference and trade show, May 19-23 in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
The AOM conference reflects in four days the advantages that AOM members receive all year long — particularly continuing education and fellowship, according to Roger Gelsinger, AOM membership director. "The main benefit of AOM is the coming together of people with a common interest," he said.
AOM membership currently stands at about 1,700. While most of the membership lives in North America, AOM considers itself an international organization. Nearly 50 countries are represented in the membership.
Some milling companies, such as ConAgra, are quite active in AOM while others are not, Gelsinger said. But even within a large milling company like ConAgra, some individual mills are more active in AOM than are others.
"It varies according to the individual's enthusiasm," Gelsinger said.
Interestingly, as the milling industry consolidates, AOM membership is growing. "At one time, every little town had its own little mill," Gelsinger said. "Those days are long gone, but professionals still need the newest and latest training."
AOM members receive up-to-date information about the industry in the association's monthly technical bulletin. Each month, at least two technical papers — usually those presented at the last AOM conference — also are published in this bulletin.
Members also receive notification of training courses and educational materials, most offered at discounted prices.
The AOM also sponsors several short courses on milling each year in conjunction with Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, U.S. These include an introduction to flour milling and advanced technical training for operative millers. Both are one-week courses.
The introduction to flour milling is "good training for anybody who needs knowledge of how a flour mill operates," Gelsinger said.
Only operative millers who have one year of experience working in a mill and who have completed the first three units of AOM's correspondence course can enroll in the advanced technical training short course.
AOM also sponsors two milling maintenance short courses each year. These two-and-a-half day courses are geared for a mill's maintenance employees. One course is held in Kansas City, the other in Wichita — cities where there is a large concentration of milling equipment supplier companies.
"We have had people tell us that they learned more in one day at one of these courses than in 20 years working in the industry," Gelsinger said. "These are very hands-on type of guys. They like to get out and be active — that's what they relate to best."
AOM also offers a correspondence course that can be taken by anyone interesting in flour milling. There are five units in the correspondence course, covering the flour milling process and end-product use as well as a section on specialty milling.
Each unit contains lessons and an open-book test. Once the test is completed, it is mailed back to AOM office. Persons who successfully pass each unit receive a certificate and a diploma once all five units are completed.
The time frame for completing the correspondence course is up to the individual "and how enthusiastic they are," Gelsinger said.
The AOM occasionally offers a durum short course, in conjuction with the Northern Crops Institute in North Dakota.
But perhaps the biggest benefit to operative millers is the AOM's annual technical conference and trade show. Beyond the educational sessions and trade show, the event also offers an invaluable opportunity to network and socialize with other millers from all over the world.
"The annual conference is what we do best," Gelsinger said.