New Zealand’s first roller mill
Milling changed from the 1880s when millstones were replaced by rollers. The first mill in New Zealand to use rollers was the Timaru Milling Company’s six-storey mill, built in 1882. It was still operating in 2009.
First automated mill
The first fully automated mill was Josiah Clifton Firth’s Eight Hours Roller Flour Mill on Auckland’s Quay St, which opened in 1888. Firth had been to the United States to buy the latest machinery. His five-storey brick mill had steel rollers and 40 elevators 24.3 metres high. It was powered by a 250-horsepower (186-kilowatt) Corliss engine, and could produce around 60 tonnes of flour a day. It was named the ‘Eight Hours’ mill because workers did an eight-hour day – in three shifts – rather than the usual two 12-hour shifts worked in mills.
How roller mills operate
In the newly mechanised mills of the late 19th century, wheat was cleaned of imperfect grains, chaff and dust, then passed through steel break rollers, after which bran was collected. The milled grain then went through sieves, purifiers and reduction rollers, after which wheatgerm was collected. The fine flour emerged after a journey through more reduction rollers.
The by-products, bran and pollard (a fine bran-and-flour mixture), were used as stock feed. The Northern Roller Milling Company started specifically making stock feed from the by-products in 1944 – and installed machinery to make stock feed pellets in 1954.
Many mills were converted to the new roller technology in the early 1890s. This often meant increasing the height of the buildings. When the Crown Roller Mill in Dunedin started in 1867 it was three storeys high and had steam-power driven millstones. Two floors and steel roller machines were added in a 1890 conversion.
These tall buildings often dominated downtown areas. The huge four-storey Northern Roller Milling Company building in Auckland’s Fort Street was a major architectural feature of the central city from 1875. When it ceased operation in 2000, the building was converted into office space.
Creamoata’s Sergeant Dan
In Gore the millers Fleming and Company produced rolled oats, mainly used to make porridge, under the brand name Creamoata – ‘Cream O’ The Oat, The National Breakfast’. Their advertisements featured Sergeant Dan, a boy scout, eating his porridge.
Canterbury, Otago and Southland
Milling was a particularly prominent industry in Canterbury and Otago, where wheat was grown. Ōamaru had huge grain stores – such as the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Company’s three-storey, 100,000-sack-capacity warehouse built in 1882, and the New Zealand Elevator Company’s (later J & T Meek’s) grain elevator. But these buildings stopped being used as grain stores when wheat growing declined from about the beginning of the First World War. By 1924 wheat for flour was being imported from Australia.
From 1965 to 1987 the New Zealand Wheat Board controlled the wheat-milling industry. After deregulation came into effect in 1987 there were a number of mergers and closures in the industry as import restrictions were liberalised and mills could buy grain direct from growers.
Milling in the 2000s
Most of the grain produced in New Zealand in the early 2000s is used by Goodman Fielder’s Champion Flour Mills, Weston Milling and Milligan’s Food Group, which operate flour mills and stock feed mills. However, most of the wheat milled for flour is imported from Australia. In the early 2000s more than half of New Zealand’s grain crop was being turned into animal feed by the Northern Roller Milling Company, which started producing stock feed in 1944 – and stopped producing flour in 1992.