by Alexander Waugh, Director General, nabim, UK
n bread eating societies, flour generally provides about 20 percent of food energy; its flexibility means that it is the main ingredient of bread in its many forms and varieties but also biscuits, cakes, pies, tarts, patisseries, morning goods, confectionery and in more manufactured foods such as coated fish and meat products, soups, sauces and more. Five years ago, when looking into the number of stock keeping units (SKUs) that would be affected by a change in UK labeling rules for flour, we gave up counting when the total exceeded 50,000. So, contrary to the views of the anti-gluten lobby, for those who do not have coeliac disease flour really is an essential part of the diet. That means that the world needs an efficient, cost effective and dynamic flour milling industry to supply it. In one form or another, nabim has been training millers for over 100 years. It was founded in the 19th century in order to help millers understand and make use of what was then the new technique of roller milling. Today, the association has developed a range of resources for use in the UK and elsewhere. These include craft skills resources for practical millers, our core modular distance learning programme followed by students in more than 30 countries across the globe, and an advanced milling diploma designed to develop skills in more experienced millers. The diploma is run in conjunction with experts from Campden BRI and the Buhler technical centre, and held every three years. We are looking forward to recognising a further six successful candidates in July 2017. Recognising the need to respond to different learning styles, training materials have moved from their original book format to include lessons, mentor support and video resources. The newest development is the creation of a â€œvirtual millâ€? which will allow participants to take machinery apart on screen and examine its inner workings, provide virtual meeting rooms and more. UK millers are determined that training provision should keep pace with the changing nature of society and take advantage of the opportunities that modern information technology offers.
48 | June 2017 - Milling and Grain
Whilst ensuring that we have properly trained people in our businesses is hugely important, it is by no means the only issue that milling associations have to address. nabim, for example, works very closely with the farming and plant breeding sectors on new wheat varieties. These are carefully tested for technical attributes before they are commercialised, so that our growers can be confident that there will be a market for their crops, and our businesses have the best idea of how they should be used. This process involves three years of testing, including large-scale milling and baking trials for the most promising bread making wheat. This close collaboration with suppliers is in evidence elsewhere: wheat is generally delivered direct from farm, meaning that millers can source single varieties; and a move to electronic documentation is in the offing, which will permit real time transfer of information from farm to end user and back again. A system of this type should allow our sector to respond well to increasing demands for traceability and provenance whilst at the same time minimising costs for all involved. It will also streamline existing systems for providing reassurance on the absence of contaminants and unacceptable residues, allowing testing to be focused on the areas most likely to be problematic. Whilst millers may be dealing with a commodity, it is clear that individuals increasingly want products that respond to their own personal preferences and needs. Our customers want to supply those goods and it is our job to help them do so. Strong associations, working together, can help devise robust systems that help move the supply chain in the right direction. The British flour milling industry is currently going through a phase of reinvestment in capacity, with several new mills built in the last five years or under construction today. This is important to deliver a combination of improved hygiene standards (without the use of fumigants), a step change in cost efficiency, and sustainable businesses. Over the last fifteen years, labour productivity in our sector has doubled and despite the tripling of energy prices, the cost of manufacture has risen less quickly than inflation. Whilst grain markets fluctuate sharply from season to season