Morton Sosland

Looking at a map of the world in order to find a center point for population will usually result in Turkey being selected for such a role. That is underscored by realizing that Turkey’s location describes a special relationship to the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. That location has played out in world history in many different and memorable ways. When it comes to examining the story of grain-based foods extending over many centuries, Turkey not only may point to a proud record extending back to the beginnings of civilization, but that country has attained modern day leadership in the important global trade in wheat flour.

According to data assembled by the International Grains Council, Turkey is not just the No. 1 exporter of wheat flour among countries, but the volume it is shipping in foreign trade also sets a new record. The latest estimate of Turkey’s wheat flour exports in the current crop year is 5.3 million tonnes in wheat equivalent, which makes for 85 million to 90 million hundredweights of wheat flour. This export flour total is just about double the peak shipments attained by the multi-nation European Union in the late 1990s. The only other export achievement that may even approach Turkey’s shipments this crop year is the total moved in relief shipments to war-ravaged Europe by the United States at the end of World War II.

The latter situation, where America donated massive quantities of flour to avert starvation, is in part being repeated currently. Primarily driving Turkey’s current record export flour pace are import requirements of Afghanistan and Syria, neighboring countries with milling industries decimated by internal conflicts. These nations have become expanding import markets in contrast with their recent past producing all of their flour needs.

Turkey’s milling industry is not relaxing with these extraordinary requirements. Instead, it is also doing everything possible to build markets for its flour exports, primarily in Africa in countries like the Sudan, as well as in Asia importers like Thailand, Indonesia and China. Haiti, the island nation in the Caribbean, is also among Turkey’s import markets.

Building demand for wheat flour, which is being diligently as well as urgently pursued by Turkey’s millers, has prompted major attention to assuring the quality of flour exports. Here the emphasis is on baking quality as represented by wheat and flour protein. Recent surveys show that more than half of Turkey’s mills process some imported wheat in order to reach desired protein content. The millers also have undertaken education programs seeking to explain to Turkish wheat farmers the need for quality wheat varieties, with two, Esperia and Tosenbuy, especially recognized for their quality. Millers are paying attention to variety research programs under way in Turkey under government auspices. Much additional work is deemed necessary because surveys have shown that most mills at some point in a crop year are unable to buy sufficient quantities of the wheat needed.

Collaboration between millers and bakers as well as with government organizations conducting research is a goal of milling. To gain attention, the industry has been in the forefront of Turkish industries in pointing to the significant export earnings Turkey has gained as a result of flour shipments. Well in excess of $1 billion has been earned by the nation as the result of flour sales to foreign destinations, while promoting bread domestically as “brain food.” Of equal importance for a country that last June experienced what threatened to be a revolution aimed at seizing control of the government from elected officials. The millers, comprising the Turkey Industrial Flour Millers Federation, noted their role in providing food to thousands of people who supported the government in coordination with the General Directorate.

“We feel the strength of our unity and integrity, and we are proud to be a member of such a great nation,” the millers declared in citing their role in Turkey’s economic strength.