The thought of becoming gluten intolerant (either legitimately or because it’s on trend) sends shivers down my spine. Giving up the delicious chewiness of a fresh sourdough, the delightful crumble of a shortcrust pastry or a delicate, light and fluffy sponge is hard for me to fathom. Flour is the backbone of so many great foods so I’m ashamed to admit that I had never given its source of origin a thought.
I couldn’t wheat to meet with Craig Neale from Wholegrain Milling- one of only three organic grain mills in Australia. Craig’s mother, Wendy, founded the venture searching for healthier and more wholesome products for her family to consume some 30 years ago. This organic mill now processes 35 different grains including cereals, wheat, rye, spelt, barley, oats, rice, sorghum, buckwheat and some ancient grains.
Craig sources his grain straight from producers down the east coast of Australia (rather than buying from grain storage facilities); however sourcing organic grain has become his biggest challenge. With 70 silos and over $25 million dollars in state of the art milling equipment, Wholegrain Milling has plenty of capacity to ramp up but they’re hamstrung by producers. So rye the difficulty?
Obviously, the certification standards that producers need to meet in order to claim the organic title are onerous. This results in more costly farming practices. According to Craig, the biggest struggle for organic farmers meeting regulatory requirements is the unpredictability and inconsistency of Miss Mother Nature combined with pricing pressure. Craig believes that there is a knead for minimum pricing standards to be introduced to ensure there is a long term susgrainable supply.
Craig mills 10,000 tonnes of organic grains annually, making up approximately 30% of the organic grain market. He suggests that demand is somewhere around 70,000 tonnes, approximately double what is available. This year, for the first time, he will use all of his reserves, milling 14,000 tonnes in an attempt to keep up with consumers. Craig is also one of few that produces a 100% stone ground flour, a product that artisan bakers hunt down for their sourdough as it retains texture and colour from the grain.
So what does this ‘organic’ label actually mean? There’s definitely a price difference, a kilo of Craig’s organic flour retails at about $3 per kilo versus approximately $1 for some of the stuff at your local supermarket. With that, you’re ensuring that you and your family are consuming wholesome products where no synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers have touched your food.
Some Farmers’ Favourite facts on flour;
- Flour dust that is suspended in air is explosive, some say it’s more explosive than coal dust
- Flour is made by grinding cereal grains (predominately wheat) or other seeds
- There are many types of flours, the higher the protein content, the stronger the flour. High protein flours are great for crusty or chewy breads. Lower protein flours are ideal for cakes as the flour is softer
- 90% of wheat grown in Australia is by sole proprietors or family partnerships
- Australia accounts for less than 5% of the world supply of wheat
- Wheat is grown in all states of Australia, with the majority grown in WA. Wheat is predominately grown in a narrow crescent, known as the wheat belt which curves from Central Queensland through New South Wales, Victoria and southern South Australia