It seems the coronavirus pandemic has affected every area of life, and milling is no exception. In fact news stories about mills, milling, flour and bread production have been particularly frequent in the last few weeks. Here is an overview of some of the stories.
The main milling related story in the UK has been the shortage of flour in the supermarkets, as the popularity of home baking during lockdown has led to increased demand. According to Alex Waugh, director general of the National Association of British and Irish Millers, the real problem is not a shortage of flour but packaging. Usually 96% of flour is sold to food manufacturers and delivered by tanker or in bags larger than 16kg. Even though mills are working 24/7 and packing lines are running at maximum capacity, it is still not possible to pack enough supermarket size flour bags to meet demand.
This has had a knock on effect on traditional mills. While these have lost their income stream from visitors, those that still produce stone-ground flour have seen a massive increase in demand as the public searches for alternative sources for flour. Many of these have been featured in the media in past weeks, including:
- Letheringsett Watermill, Norfolk
- Heatherslaw Mill, Northumberland
- Mill Green Mill, Hatfield, Herts
- Claybrooke Watermill, Leics and Green’s Windmill, Notts
- Shipton Mill, Gloucs
Other news stories about milling in the UK in the past few weeks include:
- The baker who donated hot cross buns to NHS staff, with flour provided by FWP Matthews
- The Scottish mill reinventing the WWII ‘National Loaf’
- Instructions on how to make your own flour!
- The effect on feed milling – little publicised but just as important
In countries where buying flour and baking your own bread is not just a hobby but the only way to feed your family, the effects can be much more severe. In India millers are facing a severe wheat shortage due to the closure of ‘mandis’ (agricultural markets) because of the lockdown, alongside unseasonal rains. The government has begun a programme of distributing up to 5kg free wheat per person per month, but as ‘chakki shops’ (small local mills) have also closed in the lockdown, this has left many with wheat they are unable to grind.
In one case ten bikers were arrested for looting a flour truck. A week after lockdown began some agricultural markets began reopening, but others remain closed and the flour milling industry as a whole is running at only 25% capacity.
It is a similar story in Pakistan, where the pandemic has come on top of an existing wheat shortage at a time of economic and political turmoil. Other countries are also suffering.
Let us know your story
If you’re involved with milling, we’d like here how the pandemic has been affecting you. Send us a diary, photos or just an email.