Closing of Kansas City flour mill reflects shift of work to coasts

Kansas City StarOctober 20, 2011 

The Kansas City area, once a national center for grinding wheat into flour and home to dozens of mills, has but two left. Three, if you count Excelsior Springs.

The recent shuttering of the Archer Daniels Midland mill in North Kansas City marked another milestone in a generations-long trend. It has been sped by changing rules for railroads and ever more sophisticated logistics for transforming wheat into flour into food.

Those changes have gradually but steadily shifted much of America’s bread business out of the country’s breadbasket.

Modern economics and mechanics dictate that we feed our bakeries with fewer and larger mills and that we move them closer to where people live.

That means shifting the age-old process of grinding grain, separating hull from kernel and bran from germ, closer to America’s coastlines. In turn, that has steadily shuttered mills in the country’s lightly populated, and heavily farmed, midsection.

“It’s cheaper to ship and then mill rather than the other way around,” said Josh Sosland, the editor of Milling & Baking News in Kansas City. “It’s that simple.”

For much of the 20th century, government regulations bundled the cost of shipping grain to the mill with the expense of delivering the resulting flour to the bakery. But federal deregulation of the railroads in 1980 put the industry on track toward shipping rates that made more sense for millers.

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