Ardent restarts Illinois flour mill after flooding

Chicago | Reuters –– The largest U.S. flour miller, Ardent Mills, has resumed operations in Alton, Illinois, as floodwaters along the Mississippi River receded while a mill at Chester, Ill. will remain down for weeks, company executives said Tuesday.

Near record-high floodwaters following deadly winter storms forced the company to shut down the mills a week ago.

Ardent Mills is operated jointly by Cargill, ConAgra Foods and CHS Inc.

“As of today, all of our milling operations are functioning (in Alton),” Ardent Mills chief operating officer Bill Stoufer told Reuters, adding that the company was shipping flour and other products on trucks and trains.

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The company started preparing the mills for the likelihood of flooding on Dec. 25. The Christmas holiday is typically a slow time in the flour business, which minimized any impact on the business due to flooding.

Ardent met customer orders through other facilities in its 40-mill network, which in Canada includes plants in Montreal, Saskatoon and the greater Toronto area.

“Our customers were baking before the holidays to get products on the shelves. This is probably a case where we were more lucky than good,” Stoufer said. “It happened at a time when we were a little bit lighter in the business — it wasn’t the peak of baking.”

However, the mill in Chester was still inundated by water. “Water is still up on the road and in the mill,” said Brad Allen, vice president of operations.

The worst winter flooding in years in the area also threatened some fields of soft red winter wheat, a grain variety ground into flour used for goods such as biscuits, crackers and cookies.

The executives said they were not overly worried about grain quality as many fields were in their winter dormancy.

“Wheat is a very hardy plant and it has a long way to go before harvest starts in June or July. We need to get to a period where we’re growing wheat again in early spring before we know a heck of a lot on bushels or quality,” Stoufer said.

Michael Hirtzer reports on agriculture and ag commodity markets for Reuters from Chicago. Additional reporting for Reuters by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago.

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