In the early 1920s, Cargill opens an unconventional laboratory dedicated to analyzing and pricing grain with greater precision.
In 1922, a Russian immigrant named Dr. Julius Hendel came to Cargill in search of a job. Hendel was an expert in grain, well on his way to becoming one of the first in the United States to hold a doctorate in an agribusiness-related field. He also shared the same adventurous spirit as John MacMillan, Jr., Cargill’s vice president at the time. The two became fast friends. With his inventive nature and extensive grain knowledge, Hendel was a perfect fit for a grain formulation initiative new to Cargill at the time: a state-of-the-art analytical laboratory.
The lab was established that same year. Its focus was the analysis of the US grain supply in terms of protein, moisture content and baking characteristics. With Hendel leading the charge, Cargill became one of the first in the industry to evaluate grains in this detailed, scientific manner.
Prior to studying grain at this level, experts at companies like Cargill judged the value of grain based solely on its appearance and smell. In fact, the true quality of grain was once considered impossible to measure: bakers often combined different varieties, hoping that the superior condition of some grains would counter-balance the poorer condition of the rest. It was Cargill’s idea of using scientific analysis and advanced measurements to determine quality that helped to change the future of grain evaluation.
“…Cargill’s laboratory came into its own. The days were past of deciding the use and value of a consignment grain by looking at a handful of kernels.”— John MacMillan, Jr., Vice President of Cargill
To learn the true quality of a grain, Hendel’s team cleaned and milled the wheat before thoroughly drying it. Samples were used to make dough, which was then washed at a specific temperature to remove starch, leaving only the gluten behind. The amount of gluten, a mixture of proteins that gives dough its elastic texture, revealed a given grain’s real quality.
Hendel’s process made the grading of grain less subjective. But not everyone was immediately committed to the idea of testing grain quality in a lab. Many from both inside and outside of Cargill saw the process as an industry fad and a waste of money. Even some Cargill senior executives were initially skeptical about the lab’s importance.
With time, it became clear that Hendel’s methods would become essential to the business. Cargill continued using Hendel’s techniques, mixing and grading grains more effectively and accurately than competitors. Eventually, these methods emerged as a major selling point for the company’s grains.
Today, scientists commonly judge grain by a variety of factors, such as weight, moisture, presence of foreign material and percentage of damaged kernels—and Hendel’s legacy of superior grain work continues at Cargill. For instance, in 2012, Cargill began research on purchasing habits to gain insight on creating healthier, tastier whole-wheat foods. It is just one way that Cargill is using its expertise to evolve the agricultural industry and promote healthier food for people around the world.