Located in the heart of wheat country, Shawnee Milling has modernized a more than century-old tradition of milling Oklahoma wheat into household and restaurant favorites: easy-to-bake biscuit mixes, flour for cooking-from-scratch recipes and even pet food for Rover.
“Besides buying the products in the grocery store under our Shawnee Mills labels, if people eat at a restaurant that makes pizzas or has breakfast items like biscuits, pancakes or gravies within Oklahoma, Texas or the southeast part of the United States, they are likely eating some of our products,” says Joe Ford, fourth-generation president of the family company, based in Shawnee.
Oklahoma ranks as the No. 3 winter wheat producer in the nation, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Oklahoma farmers grow primarily hard red winter wheat, a common ingredient in breads, says Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. This desirable commodity creates opportunities for in-state food processing, an industry that generates local jobs, economic growth and a steady market for Oklahoma-grown grain.
“I think food manufacturing, in general, is a very stable industry,” says Ford, whose company continues to modernize and expand upon what his great-granddad started in 1906. “It’s a growth industry with a long-term building process because of the high capital needs that are required. For the state of Oklahoma, food processing provides an industry the state can rely on for jobs and stability.”
Oklahoma Wheat Crops Poised for Growth
Value Added Products, a farmer-owned manufacturing cooperative in Alva, uses Oklahoma wheat to produce some of its pizza and pastry items for a variety of customers, including national and regional chains and the foodservice industry. Archer Daniels Midland Milling in Enid is currently retrofitting its flour mill and adding a highly automated, state-of-the-art milling unit and a new packer for bulk and 5-pound flour. By spring 2019, Shawnee Milling plans to complete an expansion in its processing line and bin storage to meet customer needs for customized products.
“Our hope with this expansion is it will allow us to create more volume for our customers, which will, in turn, allow us to buy more Oklahoma wheat and corn for our processing,” says Ford, whose company produces cornmeal, flour, gravy mix and various baking mixes, as well as livestock feed and pet food. “Every time in the past when we’ve done expansions, we have added jobs. We see job potential in this expansion, as well.”
The company currently employs about 270 people across Oklahoma at its state-of-the-art milling facilities in Shawnee and Okeene, as well as its network of grain elevators and farm stores in the heart of Oklahoma wheat country, primarily west of Interstate 35.
A Future in Oklahoma Wheat Processing
Schulte says industry leaders have teamed with researchers at Oklahoma State University to improve the end use for the state’s wheat crop. Among the studies, researchers look at the flavor profiles of different varieties of wheat and their effect on bread.
“This is exciting,” Schulte says. “The wine industry doesn’t take all their grapes and put them in one vat to make and sell wine. We’re trying to capture some opportunities in the wheat industry in regard to product offerings and the differences and importance in creating value for different uses.”
The industry’s renewed focus on end use, including flavors and wheat components, may make for a different kind of biscuit on Sunday mornings.
“I think the industry is vastly changing all the time,” Schulte says. “We are constantly looking for new markets and new avenues to take our product into.”