From fields to flour
An inside look at Lethbridge’s Parrish and Heimbecker (P&H) flour mill
Have you ever thought about how food ends up from the fields to the grocery store shelves? Many of us had not until the COVID-19 pandemic put us face-to-face with shortages and less food in the stores than we are used to. Thankfully there are thousands of Canadians across the country who are committed to producing high-quality food for us and are working around the clock to make sure our grocery stores are fully stocked again.
We recently caught up Bruce MacIntyre, President and C.O.O of P&H Milling Group (a Canadian grain company with mills across Canada, including Lethbridge) to get an inside look at how those fields of gold wheat become bags of versatile flour that we find on our grocery store shelves.
Let’s start with the basics. How does the wheat get to you from farmers’ fields?
After farmers harvest their crops, it’s sold and delivered to one of our grain elevators for pre-cleaning and storage. The wheat from the P&H grain elevators is then transferred to our mill via truck, and then we start the work to make flour. Some wheat varieties are also purchased and delivered to us directly from the farmer.
All of the wheat we receive is grown from within about a 100 km radius of our mill in Lethbridge, so we keep it really local!
What happens after you get the wheat? How do you make sure the wheat meets high Canadian standards?
We start by testing each truckload of wheat we receive to determine the protein and moisture levels, and then we separate the wheat into storage silos by wheat classes and protein level. All Canadian wheat goes through the cleaning system to remove any impurities. We test our wheat for vomitoxins and do visual and physical tests to check for visible contaminants or non-wheat material, including things like insects, other grains and fusarium damaged wheat.
We also check the test weight. A high-test weight (around 80 kg/Hectoliter bushels) is a good indication of the soundness of the wheat and how much flour it will yield. To determine the quality of the wheat, we also test the falling number, which is a test that helps identify the structural integrity of the wheat. We expect the falling number to be 300 or higher. Once all our testing and quality control is complete, we start milling.
Tell us about the milling process. How does wheat go from grains to soft flour?
The milling process is a continuous operation. After the wheat is cleaned and tempered (adding water to soften the outer layer of bran on the wheat) it will rest in our temper bins for 15 to 24 hours to condition in preparation for milling. The wheat is then ground through the roller mills and sifted to separate the outer bran from the white flour inside the wheat berry. Once the ground wheat reaches the bottom of the mill it is sent back up to the top with pneumatic air. Some parts of the wheat berry will be separated in a couple of passes and others will take several passes to be complete. From start to finish it will take at least 25 hours to produce a bag of flour.
It’s a long process, but it’s worth it to produce something so important to our country. Last year the P&H Milling Group ground over 1 million tonnes of Canadian wheat across the country.
What types of flour do you make at the Lethbridge P&H Mill?
We make bread and pastry flour out of our conventional hard and soft wheat mill, and semolina from our durum mill. Semolina is the flour used to make high-grade pasta.
Last (but most important) question. Why do you like working in milling?
We follow a specific process and have high quality control measures every day, but still each day is different. We work for a long-standing family-owned Canadian company producing local food for Canadians and people around the world. When you’re making something so important, there’s always a bright future ahead.