'Don't forget the basics'

by Arvin Donley
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A new midweek conference format and the sun-soaked tourism locale of Orlando, Florida, U.S., proved to be a winning combination for the International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) as hundreds of millers from 26 countries attended the 112th Annual IAOM Conference and Expo May 13-16.

Although Orlando is a prime destination for vacationers and conventions, there’s always a concern about how well the IAOM event will attract operative millers when it’s located far away from the nation’s wheat belt.

But IAOM Executive Vice-President Melinda Farris said the 2008 conference still drew about 750 registrants, and many of them said they liked the new mid-week schedule that included a two-day trade show as opposed to the three-day format from past years. More than 90 suppliers showcased their products and services at this year’s Expo.

The trade show floor was buzzing over the unveiling of Buhler AG’s new Antares roller mill during the opening moments of the Expo, which was held at the Orange County Convention Center. Dozens of conference attendees crowded around Buhler’s booth to get an up-close look at the machine, which the company describes as "setting new industry standards in the areas of product safety, operating reliability, ease of maintenance and user-friendliness."

Martin Schlauri, head of Buhler’s milling business unit, said the Antares has already been installed in a number of mills around the world and the feedback from millers has been very positive.

"This is an answer to demands from the market," Schlauri said. "The market is demanding reliability. They want to keep their mills running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so the equipment must be sturdy and reliable. Unplanned downtime is a real important issue for every miller, and we want to keep it as low as possible."

With the price of wheat soaring to historical highs in recent months, millers at the conference were looking for ways to cut operational costs. Several presentations during the "Product Showcase" focused on the issue of milling efficiency. Satake Corp., Hiroshima, Japan, touted its new InciliTec bran finisher, which is designed to optimize the quantity and quality of flour recovered. Meanwhile, Interstates Companies gave a presentation on achieving energy savings in flour milling facilities by using an energy management program.

The 32 educational sessions held over a three-day period also touched on the issue of cost management while focusing on four areas: facility management; quality control; technical operations and employee management.

Longtime IAOM member Royal Denning, plant manager at Cereal Food Processors, Inc., Mission Woods, Kansas, U.S., was ushered in as the association’s new president during the annual banquet and awards ceremony May 15 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel.

In accepting the gavel from immediate past president Keith Horton, Denning talked about several recent events that have jolted the milling industry, including one of the industry’s biggest customers, Interstates Bakeries Corp., filing for bankruptcy, and the dramatic rise in wheat prices.

To cope with this period of volatility and uncertainty, Denning urged IAOM members: "Don’t forget the basics," which is the theme he chose for his one year term as president.

"We can’t afford to lose focus," he said. "We have to stop dwelling on activities that merely complement our profession and concentrate on the abilities that define it. The need for technically proficient operative millers has never been greater, nor have the rewards."

Denning said one of the basic truths that some in the industry have lost sight of is "quality and yield are critical." This tenet has perhaps never been more important than today, he said, as traditional food crops are increasingly being diverted to industrial uses even as populations, particularly in the developing world, continue to expand.

"With food riots occurring in many parts of the world, we, as professionals, can’t even hint that we’re willing to put up with subpar yield or marginal grade products," Denning said. "The hungry world will accept no excuses."

Denning, who has been a member of IAOM for more than 40 years, said the association must also remember "the basics" by living up to one of its old mottos: "Proficiency, cooperation and fellowship."

"We must continually strive to offer educational and networking opportunities that can’t be obtained anywhere else," he said.

Ted Korolchuk, director of milling, ConAgra Flour Milling, Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., received the 2008 Milling Operative of the Year award during the banquet.

The award, presented annually for the past 23 years by Sosland Publishing Co.’s Milling & Baking News, sister publication of World Grain, recognizes an active milling operative who has made the most significant contributions to the progress of his plant, his company and the industry from an operating point of view. Charlie Sosland, chairman of Sosland Publishing, presented the award to Korolchuk.

In addition to the annual honor, Sosland Publishing establishes a $1,500 scholarship in the winner’s name at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, U.S., to be given to a deserving student in the Department of Grain Science and Industry.

Korolchuk joined ConAgra in 1979, moving from head miller to regional technical miller in the ensuing years. During his nearly 30-year career, Korolchuk’s track record of successful projects includes helping restart mills in Chester and Alton, Illinois, U.S., during the floods of 1993, and rebuilding the company’s Commerce City, Colorado, U.S. mill.

Most recently, Korolchuk’s passion for innovation was instrumental in the development of ConAgra’s Ultrafine whole grain flour.

"This leadership has been significant for the milling and baking industries," said Paul Maass, president and general manager, ConAgra Mills. "The introduction of fine whole grain flour that delivers taste and texture similar to refined flour has provided a foundation for the milling and baking industries’ turnaround in demand."

Korolchuk has also been active in IAOM, serving as a member of the Technical Committee as well as the "What’s New?" program.

Three other awards were presented during the banquet.

Merzad Jamshidi, director of IAOM’s Middle East & Africa District, received the J. George Kehr award which honors those who help promote membership development and district growth. It marked the first time in more than a decade that the award had been presented by IAOM.

The Middle East & Africa District has enjoyed dramatic growth in recent years, including a remarkable 300% increase in members in 2007.

In presenting the award, Past IAOM President Bill Dutton noted that Jamshidi had been "instrumental in organizing district conferences despite facing some difficult situations." Jamshidi, who is CEO of KFF Mills in Tehran, Iran, said he is hoping for another good turnout at this year’s Middle East & Africa District Conference Nov. 11-14 in Arusha, Tanzania.

Receiving the George B. Wagner Outstanding Service Award for providing leadership and support in the areas of sanitation and food safety was Bob Richardson, manager, sanitation and food safety, for General Mills Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.

Jim Bair, vice-president of the North American Millers’ Association, said of Richardson: "He’s my go-to guy for any question dealing with sanitation and food protection. His ability to explain highly technical matters in terms that lay people understand and do so with a smile on his face has served the milling industry very well and makes him uniquely qualified to receive this award."

The Thaddeus Bownik Award for Outstanding Service was presented to Barry McConnell, operations manager for Ellison Milling, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

In nominating McConnell for the award, Ellison Milling President Michael Greer lauded McConnell for always looking at the big picture. "He doesn’t confine his focus to just milling," he said. "He realizes that the success of any milling operation is not only dependent on achieving the targeted yield or throughput number, but also on superior marketing, salesmanship and customer service."

After years of holding the Latin American District Meeting in conjunction with the IAOM Conference and Expo, leaders are considering the idea of conducting their own meeting independent of the annual conference in North America.

Nearly 50 millers from the Latin American District, which includes Central America and South America, attended this year’s conference in Orlando, but that was a disappointing number considering that organizers were originally hoping the turnout would be similar to the 1990 conference in Orlando, which drew 150 from the Latin American District.

Marco Fava, director of the Latin American District, said only about 1% of the IAOM membership in Latin America attended this year’s event, which has sparked conversation about moving the meeting closer to home.

"We’re talking about it," Fava said. "We can’t seem to find a way to bring more Latin American people to these events here. We’ve done everything we can on the technical part. This year we had very good technical sessions with varied topics and good speakers."

The educational lineup included the "What’s New?" program, which consisted of seven presentations on new and innovative milling industry products, as well as the technical program, which featured topics such as insect management, quality control, modern blending technology, enrichment practices and the use of continuous ship unloaders.

Although many IAOM members from North America seemed to like the conference’s new midweek format, Fava said the change from the weekend format wasn’t well received by the Latin American contingent.

"Those who came up from Latin America had to miss a whole week of work," he said. "When it was on the weekend, they only had to miss three or four days of production."

The other issue that may have kept Latin mill owners from sending their employees to the conference, Fava said, was their shrinking profit margins due to the high cost of wheat. He said several factors, including a farmers’ strike in Argentina over export taxes, have reduced the region’s supply of wheat, forcing Latin American millers to buy more expensive wheat from far away countries such as the United States and Canada.

"When wheat costs $700 per tonne and you tell your boss you’d like to go to Orlando for a week, they’ll say, ‘This year you aren’t going anywhere,’ " Fava said.

Fava said next year’s Latin American District Meeting will be held as scheduled in conjunction with the 2009 IAOM Conference and Expo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S. But things could change after that, depending on what members of the district decide. Fava said members may approach the Latin American Millers Association (ALIM), which holds its annual meeting in the fall, to see if it would be interested in hosting a joint event. Another option would be to rotate the IAOM Latin American meeting to different sites in Central America and South America. The third option would be to keep holding the event in conjunction with the conference in North America.

"One of the advantages is that I don’t work in one factory — I do consulting for a number of mills — so I can spread the news in different places and get feedback from many different people," he said.

Bart Hahlweg, plant manager of Con-Agra Foods’ flour mill in Oakland, California, U.S., was elected IAOM treasurer during the association’s annual business meeting May 15 in Orlando. He replaces Ivo Klaric, Horizon Milling, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, who moved to the position of vice-president.

During the business meeting, it was reported that IAOM had a net operating profit of $74,000, the third consecutive year that the association has operated with a net profit.

It was also noted that donations to the International Milling Education Foundation (IMEF), the philanthropic partner of the IAOM, doubled during the past year and now stands at more than $200,000.

Established in 2003, IMEF is building an endowment to fund a variety of educational programs, professional development efforts and research projects for the grain milling industry.