When Griffins Foods signed a contract to source flour from
South Canterbury-based Farmers Mill, it was a leap of faith
in a group of arable farmers.
At that stage, Farmers Mill did not have a mill, let alone
the ability to supply a sample. Nor was there a track record
in flour production.
''It's a great story in the sense that Griffins bought into
the idea without a mill and no product,'' Farmers Mill
chairman and South Canterbury farmer Murray Turley reflected.
He attributed the biscuit and snack food company's confidence
in the yet-to-be opened mill to the security of the raw
material and knowing the source of it.
Owned by 12 innovative and forward-thinking South Island
farmers, Farmers Mill is the country's only independent
grower-owned-and-operated flour producer and baking supplier.
Based at Washdyke, on the outskirts of Timaru, the $10.5
million mill was officially opened by Prime Minister John Key
in May last year.
It produces biscuit, all-purpose baking, cake, pastry and
bread flours, supplying the likes of Griffins Foods,
Couplands Bakeries, French Bakery and Baker Boys.
Retail outlets using Farmers Mill flour for artisan breads
and pastry-based products include Little and Friday in
Auckland, and Rangiora Bakery in Canterbury.
A relationship with French multinational yeast supplier
Lesaffre - the world's largest yeast producer - has enabled
Farmers Mill to extend its pre-mix range to include Lesaffre
products, including gluten-free cakes and breads alongside
traditional mixes and baking ingredients.
Farmers Mill's most recent innovation was its Smart Bake
product range, a range of nutrition-focused pre-mixes. As
well as low-salt mixes, there was also a range of sugar-free
The idea of the mill was first mooted in 2011, with building
commencing in July the following year and the mill becoming
operational in March last year.
Arable farmers were looking at different options and the mill
was one way they could ''move up the value chain'' and
attract some more value out of their wheat, Mr Turley said.
With farmers already owning a grain storage company on the
site, part of the infrastructure was already there.
The Griffins Foods contract was secured before the decision
was made on the size of the building and it was foresight
that capacity was built in the mill so it would not have to
be altered within the short-term, Mr Turley said.
The company's shareholders were all very successful
operators, including the likes of Raymond Bowan, who
established Heartland Potato Chips after buying the empty
Bluebird factory at Washdyke, and Leighton Pye, from Pye
Mr Turley's own operation, Turley Farms, is involved in
large-scale grain, seed and vegetable production, growing
close to 3000ha of crop in the Temuka, Rangitata and Chertsey
He described the shareholders in Farmers Mill as a ''great
crew'' and while, they competed in other areas of their
arable businesses, at Farmers Mill they all pulled together
''to bring our full strength to the fore''.
''I think if Grant [chief executive Grant Bunting] asked us
to jump over a cliff, we'd all jump, I don't know if we'd
wait to draw who would go first,'' he said.
Establishing a mill was not a daunting prospect for the group
- ''we didn't have time to think about it''. Rather, the
sleepless nights were at the stage of getting the mill
''You come down to the wire on a short project,'' Mr Turley
The success of the mill had exceeded expectations and it had
''great support'' from South Island businesses, he said.
It was no different from any start-up business - the key
factors were financial resources, people resources and raw
materials, and he believed all three were well covered.
The mill employed about 20 staff and the business had grown
to include a second shift.
At ''comfortable'' capacity, it could process about 40,000
tonnes of wheat and produce about 32,000 tonnes of flour
Mr Bunting said the flour being produced was high quality,
which he attributed to the new mill, a very good miller, and
a very tight relationship between the mill and the growers.
There was value in provenance and the product could be traced
back to the farm. That was attractive to some exporters,
especially if products were going into the Japanese and
European markets, he said.
Before the establishment of Farmers Mill, there was no
engagement between mills and growers, he said.
Having that close link was particularly valuable when it came
to product development.
The establishment of the mill gave options to arable farmers,
whether it was milling or feed grain that they grew.
The mill had taken business from others, rather than there
being any increase in the New Zealand flour market, and there
had been a substitution of New Zealand-grown grain for
imported grain to make flour.
There was a lot of imported grain coming into New Zealand, Mr
Turley said. The business had attracted some good people and
career path or remuneration had not necessarily been
relevant. Rather, it was all about a story, Mr Bunting said.
''There's something about this story ...
this is a real `good guy' story. That's what has got people
interested,'' he said.
The company was about to embark on a joint venture, working
with a tertiary institute on researching low GI. There was a
big challenge at the moment around sugar, salt and gluten, he
Federated Farmers is encouraging farmers to help each other
as cropping farmers in Canterbury and North Otago seek
respite from a prolonged wet spell which is threatening
specialist crops and cereals ahead of harvesting.
''Already sodden fields have been shown no mercy from a
succession of passing cyclonic fronts,'' Mid Canterbury
president Chris Allen said.
''This will have the same impact on cropping farmers as one
metre of snow during lambing would have on sheep farmers.
It's very serious,'' he said.
With shorter days and less heat, there would be limited
opportunities for farmers to recover their crops.
Due to the wet ground conditions, crops were not suitable for
harvest and, when they were, there would be a big demand on
resources, he said.
Late-season small seed crops such as carrots and radish had
been particularly affected, with significant areas still
waiting for a break in the weather.