Photos by Arvin Donley.
In 2014, Stafford County Mills installed a wind turbine near its central Kansas mill, making it the first commercial flour milling facility in North America to use wind power-generated electricity produced on site.
Reuel Foote, president of Stafford County Mills, said the wind turbine, which went into operation in December 2014, allows the company to offset retail energy rates and lower carbon emissions.
“Stafford County Flour Mills physically sits in one of the best wind corridors in the United States and so it was only natural that we seek an opportunity to procure our energy responsibly and reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy while fixing one of our key input costs in flour milling,” he said.
The idea of using wind power as a source of energy for the mill came from Jeff Weltzin, vice-president of sales for Stafford County Mills. Driving toward Stafford County Mills one day from his home in Colorado, Weltzin noticed hundreds of wind turbines churning along Interstate Highway 70 in western Kansas that are used to provide electricity to local communities. He wondered if this type of “green” energy could be used at a flour mill.
The answer, after doing a feasibility study, was yes: Stafford County Mills was the perfect-sized mill (2,400 cwts per day production capacity) in the right location to use a single wind turbine to cost-effectively power its flour mill.
“If we had put up a full windfarm power-sized generator, the problem is we would have had all this excess energy we’d have to pay back to the power company at pennies on the dollar,” Reuel Foote said. “We were at the perfect size where we can use almost all of the power from a single wind turbine and yet still keep the power company on the hook.”
The company was also fortunate to be in a location where sustained winds are almost always in the 6 to 50 mph range that is needed to operate the turbine, and just far enough away from the Quivira Wildlife Refuge so that it wasn’t deemed a threat to birds.
However, the feasibility study also found that the ideal place to install the turbine was not on company property, which meant Stafford County Mills had to seek permission to lease property from a nearby landowner.
“We went to the lady who owned the ground and she was very receptive to leasing to us; she thought it was pretty neat,” he said.
Stafford County Mills purchased Gamesa Technology Corp., Inc.’s G58-850 kW turbine from its primary distributor, Harvest the World Network (HTWN), whose regional partner, Sustainable Energy Developments, designed, permitted and installed the turbine on a 55-meter tower. Reuel Foote said Gamesa has a wind farm near Waverly, Kansas, so its technicians are available on fairly short notice to maintain or repair the turbine in Hudson.
“It has definitely decreased our energy costs,” said Derek Foote, assistant manager and Reuel’s son, who spearheaded the wind turbine project for the company. “There are always fluctuations. It has produced anywhere from 140,000 kW hours to 260,000 kW hours per month, depending on the wind conditions. When it averages out over a year, it basically produces the amount of energy that the flour mill uses itself.”
Derek Foote said the turbine, which has a general lifespan of 20 to 25 years, will pay for itself in seven years.
“It is a long-term investment,” he said. “Once it’s all paid for we are basically hedging our energy costs so instead of us always having those main input costs, we’re protecting ourselves from continuing rising energy costs and keeping them more fixed.”
Attempting to curb energy costs wasn’t the only reason Stafford County Mills decided to invest in wind energy. Reuel Foote said the company also wanted to make a statement about its commitment to energy conservation.
“A lot of our larger retail chains have a sustainability index that they require for all of their suppliers,” he said. “This can give us a leg up on the competition by showing that we are using green energy. Some companies just do that by buying energy credits from the power company, but they don’t have a turbine.”
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Hudson Cream flour
Being the only wind-powered flour mill in North America isn’t the only unique aspect of Stafford County Mills’ business strategy. It also is one of the few mills in the United States to produce short patent flour for its Hudson Cream Flour brand.
Hudson Cream is not a blend of hard and soft wheat flours, as most all-purpose flours are, but is made entirely from hard red winter wheat. The high protein content of winter wheat creates a strong network of gluten strands to trap more carbon dioxide bubbles as the dough rises, which results in higher, lighter bread. The strong protein also withstands long kneading without the gluten breaking down so the finished loaves have a rich flavor and a uniform, picture-perfect crumb.
Reuel Foote said “short patent” refers to the low percentage of the wheat kernel used in milling the flour. Hudson Cream flour includes 62% of the kernel while the industry standard is 80%. The result is a more refined product, almost like cake flour.
“We pull the low-grade flour out, which is called clear, and sell it separately,” Reuel Foote said. “We also make patent flour and whole wheat flour. Our short patent flour is more silky and light in texture because we pull the low-grade flour out.”
Reuel Foote, who has been with the company for 40 years, said as far as he knows Stafford County Mills has always produced Hudson Cream Flour since it was founded in 1904 by Gustav Krug, a German miller who immigrated to the United States and settled in central Kansas.
He said Hudson Cream Flour is the “closest thing you’re going to get to soft wheat flour from hard wheat.” He said carving out this niche has served the company well for many years.
“We have always felt that we needed to have a quality product at a fair price and that if we’re the same as everybody else on the shelf, then what’s going to make people buy our product instead of theirs,” Reuel Foote said. “We’re a small company. We can’t put millions of dollars into advertising. We feel we have to have a quality product that stands out from the rest. We do that in everything we make. That’s why we use white wheat in our whole wheat flour because we feel white wheat is better for whole wheat flour than red wheat.”
Hudson Cream Flour is primarily used to make pancakes and biscuits.
“People in the Appalachian states say they can’t make biscuits unless they have it,” said Reuel Foote, adding that Hudson Cream Flour is also sold to retail outlets in Kansas, Texas and Missouri.
“We sell our 25- and 50-pound bags to restaurants, bakeries, prisons, mix companies and tortilla companies,” he said. “We also have one bulk customer in Colorado.”
Stafford County Mills is fortunate to have ample amounts of the right type of wheat, essentially in its backyard, to make its Hudson Cream Flour. It contracts with local farmers in the surrounding four counties, paying them a premium for hard winter wheat with specific characteristics. Having a local supply of raw material for its mill pays off in a number of ways, Reuel Foote said.
“One, we know the product we are getting,” he said. “Two, even though we are paying them more than the elevators around us are, it is still economically feasible for us. We’re carrying some of that wheat for quite a while, but we feel it safeguards our quality. If you buy from elevators, you are going to get a blended product most generally, so you get some of what we want but also some of what they want to get rid of. By getting our wheat directly from the farmer we feel we have a better raw material to make our product. Different varieties of wheat don’t all bake the same. There are certain areas out in western Kansas that raise a lot of TAM wheat varieties, but those aren’t good milling and baking wheats.”
Stafford County Mills owns three elevators within close proximity of its mill. In all, the company has 4 million bushels of grain storage – 1.4 million in Macksville, Kansas, 600,000 in Sylvia, Kansas, and about 2 million bushels on the site of the mill in Hudson.
“We have three entities to our business: we sell fertilizer to the farmers; we take in the grain from the farmers; and we make flour,” Reuel Foote said. “In our opinion it’s kind of hard to want the farmers to haul their wheat to us and not take care of the rest of their crops, so we handle their corn, sorghum and soybeans. We see it as a relationship with them, not just a business.”
The only wheat that Stafford County Mills uses that doesn’t come from the four nearby counties is organic wheat.
“We’ve been doing organic for about 10 years,” said Reuel Foote, noting that its organic wheat flour is sold to large retail chains and tortilla companies throughout the United States. “We typically get it from western Kansas and Nebraska, but one year those areas weren’t able to produce quality organic wheat and we had to have it shipped in all the way from Argentina.”
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Long mill flow
Reuel Foote said for the type of flour that Stafford County Mills produces, it is important for newly harvested wheat (usually brought to the elevator in June and July) to go “through a sweat” in storage before sending it to the mill.
“We want to peel the bran; we don’t want to pulverize it,” he said. “We don’t put new crop wheat into the mill until September. We have to carry wheat over for that and slowly blend it in with old crop wheat to keep it consistent.”
Wheat coming into the mill’s cleaning house, which features all Bühler equipment, including a Combicleaner, goes through a 12-hour tempering. The product is run through a longer mill flow, which includes more sifting than in a typical flour mill.
The mill, which went through its last expansion about a decade ago, going from 1,000 cwts to 2,400 cwts per day, includes Witt single roll stands, Bühler double high roller mills, Bühler and Alapala purifiers, Great Western wooden sifters, and pneumatics from Bühler and Kice. Flour is stored in three 100,000-pound-capacity bins and four bins with capacity of 150,000 pounds.
Since almost all of the company’s flour is bagged in either, 2-, 5-, 25- or 50-pound bags, the packing house is a critical part of Stafford County Mills’ operation. It features automatic packers manufactured by Italpack and Excelpack, and is operated by seven full-time employees Monday through Friday. Overall, the company has 40 employees, including eight full-time employees in the mill.
Almost all of the company’s flour is transported by truck by utilizing local trucking companies, Derek Foote said.
“We aren’t experts in getting backhauls so it’s just more economical for us to source that out,” he said.
Reuel Foote said the company will soon be introducing a flour bag that features the Hudson Cream logo and a wind turbine to emphasize that the product is made using wind energy.