U.S. Congressman Ron Estes toured the Stafford County Flour Mills in Hudson last week and learned what a big impact agriculture policies can have on this major Kansas flour producer.
When Congressman Ron Estes came to Hudson last Thursday, August 31, to tour the Stafford County Flour Mill which produces Hudson Cream Flour, it was clear he enjoyed the afternoon. After meeting the managers, touring storage and production facilities, examining mechanizations and viewing a video of the history and details of flour production in Hudson, he summed it all up in a few words.
"That's pretty impressive. I am very impressed," Estes said.
It could be just a bit mind-boggling to consider that the flour mill in Hudson employs 40 people in all areas, from milling, delivery, and elevator-help to office and administration for three facilities, yet the population of the town where the plant is situated fluctuates around 100.
"We produce 50,000 pounds of flour every week," said assistant manager Derek Foote. "Then we ship it all over the United States, with a lot going to Appalachian states like Mississippi, Arkansas, as well as California, Texas and even up into Canada."
The Stafford County Flour Mill gets 95 percent of the wheat used to make Hudson Creme Flour from surrounding farmers in a 15-mile radius of Hudson. Three elevators in Sylvia, Macksville and Hudson have taken in wheat from the area for more than 100 years and it is all trucked to the Hudson Mill where it is made into short-patent flour.
"Not all flour is the same," said Foote. "Here at the mill we produce specialty flours for niche markets that some of the bigger mills don't have time for."
Many schools and government commodity programs buy a 60/40 blend of whole wheat and white flours from Hudson. Self-rising flour is a large part of sales to the Appalachian states where they like to make a lot of biscuits from Hudson Creme Flour. The Dollar Tree chain takes a commodity grade flour and distributes it throughout stores in Virginia, Idaho, California, Kansas and others, while specialty mixes using Hudson flour sell in West Virginia for the gravy trade. The Hudson Flour Mill produces a specialty flour for Chicago call Cerestota, and a Jewish flour one step above kosher for that market.
"We have two different rabbis come out and watch the milling and bless the process," Foote said.
Foote also said that flour has a cyclical season of production with the busiest months being August through April.
"There is just a lot more baking that goes on through the fall, winter and spring months," he said. "In the summer everyone is out grilling, I guess."
With that in mind, Foote said the mill was swamped with orders as usual at this time, with a large yearly push by Dollar Tree going out this month as part of a special promotion.
"We are getting ready to send them 30 semi-loads that are 42,000 pounds each," he said.
The process of turning wheat to flour involves several stages from first cleaning, separating the hulls and germ out, to sifting, milling and packaging. Extra milling stages create the short-patent, creme compared product that Hudson Creme is famous for. Congressman Estes was particularly interested in seeing how some of the machines in the mill worked, taking a closer look when allowed.
"He is an engineer by degree," said Estes' publicity assistant Debbie Luper. "He looks these working parts and coming here, that was a big draw for Stafford and his decision to visit."
After the mill tour Estes listened closely while President of the Stafford County Flour Mill, Reuel Foote, shared some of the difficulties the company faces, even in times of increased production to meet demand.
"The last few years we have had to deal with wheat of lower protein values because farmers just can't afford to fertilize as much," he said. "This year we had to buy and ship in higher protein wheat from outside the area just to meet our blend levels."
Another problem Foote shared with Estes included the scarcity of truck drivers for delivery and the complications that eLogs have become, bogging down delivery times and rates.
But the big issue on the mind of Foote and the surrounding wheat farmers he depends on is that of water.
"It's a tough problem," Foote said. "If the government is going to start curtailing our water we won't see the irrigation we need. If we can't irrigate we will lose 40 percent of our crops. It will shut us down."
Congressman Estes heard similar concerns at the Stafford County Courthouse Annex earlier in the day on Thursday before coming to Hudson for the flour mill tour. Later that evening he was the guest speaker at the Stafford County Farm Bureau banquet.
"I appreciate hearing the input from my fellow Kansans and I am proud to be able to take their ideas back to Washington," Estes said in a press release. "It's very apparent that Kansas want real results from Washington, and I get it. You deserve real results, and I'm committed to ensuring that we start solving problems in Washington, not making more."
Ron Estes is a 5th generation Kansas and represents Kansas' 4th congressional district in the U. S. House of Representatives.