LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS, US – Having postponed last year’s International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) Conference and Expo because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the IAOM handed out its industry awards for both 2020 and 2021 on Sept. 1 at its annual banquet at the Little Rock Marriott.

Daisuke Ito, director of engineering at Miller Milling Company, was named the 2020 Milling Operative of the Year winner, while Scott Freebern, PHM Brands, received the 2021 Milling Operative of the Year award.

Established in 1986 by Milling & Baking News, sister publication of World Grain, the award is given to the practicing milling operative who has made the most significant contribution to the progress of a plant, a company and the industry from an operations point of view.

Ito, who is stationed in Japan at Nisshin Flour Milling Inc., the parent company of Miller Milling, was unable to attend because of travel restrictions related to the pandemic. He said in a live video that he was honored to receive the award.

“Thank you very much,” Ito said. “I appreciate all the support from the IAOM members.”

Jeff Hole, vice president of operations for Miller Milling, said Ito quickly became a trusted member of the Miller Milling operations team when he moved to the United States in 2017 to become the company’s director of engineering. One of his first projects for the company was helping with the expansion of a mill in Saginaw, Texas, US, which was completed in 2019.

“Daisuke continually challenged the team and contractors to ensure a first-class facility,” Hole said. “With Daisuke’s help, the Saginaw project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.”

Ito continually strives for improvement in all areas of the mill, but his main love is for the milling operations, Hole said.

“Daisuke has been quick to blend ideas from Japan into our mills as well as welcome in senior millers from Japan to not only help improve extractions but to help with the transfer of knowledge with our millers,” Hole said. “With Daisuke’s help and leadership, we have been able to raise extractions at all of our locations and reach record highs.”

His work ethic and pursuit of excellence are well known by his colleagues, Hole said.

“You are likely to find him traveling early or late in the day, behind his computer at the office until midnight or at the office on weekends, making sure all reports, spreadsheets, and documentation is up to date,” Hole said. “There are numerous examples, but on one weekend Daisuke traveled to a mill location to run wet slicks on every flour loadout sample when the NIR was out of service to guarantee our customers were receiving quality flour.”

Freebern, who helped grow Panhandle Milling from one flour mill in Texas to a total of seven grain processing and storage facilities throughout the Midwestern United States, is the company’s vice president of technical milling.

Freebern said he was humbled by the honor.

“I never thought I would win this award,” he said. “This is my 15th (IAOM) show and I’ve gained a lot of experience and camaraderie from this organization.”

Milling industry veteran Brad Allen, who presented the award to Freebern, described him as a “standup guy” who is “hardworking, honest and reliable.”

“He is recognized for his ability to dial in machines to produce exactly what is needed, and if he is asked to create a new product, he finds a way to make the equipment accomplish the task,” Allen said. “His talents as a miller, ability to improve processes, and commission new equipment are second only to his desire to bring it all to the table every day and make his company better.

“On top of all that, he is really good at making flour. All these things, taken together, have earned him a lot of respect from his peers at PHM Brands and Panhandle Milling, and from the entire milling community.”

IAOM’s most prestigious honor – the Gold Medal award – was presented to Jeff Gwirtz, a milling industry consultant who for many years was a milling professor at Kansas State University.

The award is presented to an IAOM member who provides exemplary service to the milling industry.

A 38-year member of IAOM, Gwirtz played a critical role in updating the organization’s correspondence course, has served as chairman of the IAOM technical committee and has delivered presentations on technical milling issues at conferences around the globe.

“What a lucky man I am,” an emotional Gwirtz said. “I’m not sure words can ever express my gratitude for the association with Kansas State University and the IAOM, and to be associated with a group of people who are responsible for helping feed the world.”

The Thaddeus B. Bownik Outstanding Service Award was presented to two longtime IAOM members: Heinz Baecker, president of Codema, a milling equipment manufacturer, and Anthony Yount, director of health, environment and safety at Ardent Mills.

Baecker was unable to attend the banquet due to illness. Yount fought back tears as he expressed his gratitude for the recognition.

“God blessed me with a career, not a job,” Yount said. “I have a passion about what I do, and I think that’s important.”

Gerald Richardson, president of CETEC Cereal Technologies, received the J. George Kehr award given to an individual who makes outstanding contributions in membership recruitment and district development.

Richardson has been very instrumental in the growth and development of IAOM’s Latin American District.

 The inaugural Aspiring Miller award was presented to Nelson Aviles-Martinez, who has served in various milling roles for Ardent Mills, including at the company’s plant in Haiti when it was severely damaged in a 2017 earthquake.