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Elie flour mill serves niche North American market

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Shoppers in New York could be getting a little taste of Elie when they purchase their favourite loaf of organic bread.


Clayton Manness, general manager of Elie-based Prairie Flour Mills, said his company ships some of the organic flour it mills to major American centres such as New York. That flour is then used in products such as organic bread for which consumers are willing to pay top dollar.
Although the competition is fierce among North American millers, last summer’s severe drought in the American Midwest resulted in bakers looking further afield for all-purpose and whole-wheat flour milled from wheat certified as organically-grown, he said.


"They have a clientele who will pay the higher price," Manness said. "Certainly Canadian wheat is accepted."


Production of about three car lots a day is modest for a flour mill as most commercial mills are much larger in size and output, but Prairie Flour, located on Elie’s west side, has managed to hold its own since it opened in 1998. It’s success has come despite $1.5 million in damage to the mill caused by the F5 tornado that struck in June 2007.


Manness said the mill structure was protected by thick concrete walls, but all of the aluminum-frame buildings that weren’t filled with grain were completely crushed and a semi-trailer parked on the property was catapulted through the air.


He could see the ominous mushroom-shaped cloud over Elie from the window of the home he was then constructing in La Salle. Luckily no one was working on the mill’s site when the tornado hit, Manness said.


"It was the first Friday night in weeks that no one was packaging flour," he said.
The mill was operational again within two weeks, but repairs to other buildings took almost a year to complete.


Manness said the company is proud of the fact it employs 25 people, some of whom live in Elie while others commute from the surrounding area and Winnipeg.


Prairie Flour also acts as a buyer for locally-grown wheat. Manness said the mill contracts with local farmers for organic wheat production, and typically sources most wheat from within a 100-mile radius.


"We try to provide the best wheat pricing for local producers," he said.


The mill contains equipment used by qualified staff to evaluate the baking qualities of the wheat it receives. No final purchases are made until the test results of a sample are deemed satisfactory.


There are two bagging lines – one for commercial-sized 20 kilograms bags and another for smaller retail-sized bags. Manness said they produce flour for Loblaws and bakers in eastern Canada and the U.S.


Located next to the Trans-Canada Highway, the mill is well situated for receiving grain and shipping flour in bags and bulk by truck.


Manness said he’s confident that demand for the mill’s flour will continue as bread is a staple in most North Americans’ diets.

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