Bakha Söhne

Fields of dreams in the vastness of Kazakhstan 🎞️

Kazakhstan enjoys good growing conditions for oats and a strong domestic market. Yet the country has historically relied on its neighbors for oat processing. That is until the Aripov family decided to extend their business from farming and, with Bühler’s help, opened the country’s first high-tech oat mill. Now they are looking to serve neighboring markets too.

Roughly the size of western Europe, Kazakhstan is the world’s largest land-locked country and with a population of 19 million it is also one of the least densely populated – there are just six people per square kilometer. Once you leave the glass, steel and architectural modernity of the capital Astana and travel west on route M-36 you soon enter a vast belt of grassland known as the Kazakh Steppe. The skies are big, and the landscape is uninterrupted by buildings.

This region is called Akmola and is one of Kazakhstan’s main crop-growing areas. Keep going on the M-36 for 250 kilometers west of the capital to the small village of Pokrovka in Akmola, and here you will find Kazakhstan’s most high-tech oat mill. This is the new Bakha Söhne oat mill, owned by the Aripov family, built with the latest Bühler technology. It has been in operation since March 2023.


From farming to processing

Farms are huge here. In the past, vast tracts of land were plowed to grow cereal crops to feed the wider population of the Soviet Union. When Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991, the Aripov family saw an opportunity here, given the already good road transport links in Akmola, and they began buying land and building what would become the country’s largest agricultural product supplier.

Today, the farmland owned by the Aripov family stretches beyond the horizon, covering 75,000 hectares, of which 50,000 hectares is used to grow wheat, barley, lentils, sunflowers, flax seeds, and oats. The remainder of the land is used for cattle grazing. Farming has long been part of the Aripovʼs way of life. But the family came to realize that while Kazakhstan was growing enough crops to feed itself, it was overly dependent on its neighbors for its food security when it came to food processing.

Dauren Kassabekov, General Manager of Bühler Kazakhstan, Amanzhol Aripov, Director of Bakha Söhne, Mathias Hannsbauer, Head of Business Segment Oats at Bühler, and Ilyas Karymsakov, Head of Technology at the Bakha Söhne oat mill.
Our primary goal is first to meet the needs of our own country and, subsequently, to export our product to central Asian countries and the Chinese market.

Amanzhol Aripov, Director of Bakha Söhne LLP

“My parents and I are involved in farming, and we’ve gradually expanded our land and decided that we want to transition into processing,” explains Amanzhol Aripov, Director of Bakha Söhne LLP. “Initially, we looked into processing buckwheat and lentils, but ultimately decided on oats because, currently, Kazakhstan imports a significant amount of oat flakes. Our primary goal is first to meet the needs of our own country and, subsequently, to export our product to central Asian countries and the Chinese market.”

Aripov believes there are huge opportunities for high-quality, locally produced oats as demand grows across Central Asia. Porridge became a staple food in Kazakhstan, particularly for children during the Soviet period, when it went under the brand name of Hercules. Today porridge is served in many restaurants and is also used widely for making cookies and cakes. Aripov believes that oats provide a bit of nostalgia for many Kazakh people because of the strong connection to childhood. “When I was young, I remember my mom preparing porridge for us. Even now, when we eat porridge for breakfast, it feels like revisiting childhood memories,” he says.

Looking to the future, Aripov sees the role of oats in people’s diets changing and expanding. This was a critical factor in the decision to go into oat processing. “We decided on oat flake production because we saw that over the last ten years there has been a trend towards improved nutrition in countries such as Kazakhstan and the Central Asian nations, especially among the younger generations,” he says. 

Gathering knowledge and expertise

Once the decision to diversify into oat processing was taken, the next step was to acquire the expertise and source the technology needed to put it into action. The family had already been talking to Bühler, but it was during a fortuitous meeting when Aripov’s father, Ualikhan Aripov, met Dauren Kassabekov, General Manager of Bühler Kazakhstan, that the plan to build an oat processing mill using the latest technology was forged. “We had been speaking previously, but it was when we met on a plane in November 2017, flying from Astana to Han-over for the Agritechnica exhibition, that we discussed the idea of the oat mill,” says Kassabekov.

After discussing the pros and cons of the project, the Aripovs decided to build an oat mill engineered by Bühler and to use its plant automation system, Mercury MES (Manufacturing Execution System). The next challenge was how to acquire the necessary skills for this new business. There are no other large oat flake production plants in Kazakhstan, so Aripov turned to Bühler for advice.

“My role is to be the support on the ground and help with training,” says Kassabekov. He scheduled visits for Aripov and his team to similar Bühler oat mills in Europe and other regions. He also arranged meetings at conferences and exhibitions to help them gain expertise and understanding of the new industry. Aripov also attended training in Uzwil.

“In 2019, our technologist and I attended a two-week course at the Bühler headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland. We witnessed the entire production process from intake and cleaning to dehulling, as well as crucial steps such as heat treatment and flaking. It was truly an invaluable experience,” he says. “As we got to know Bühler better and saw Bühler’s approach to production, with its focus on automation and digitalization, we also realized how this simplified many aspects of manufacturing.” 

Support to overcome initial challenges

While Kassabekov was supporting the new business in Kazakhstan, the business team in Uzwil provided market and technical expertise. “We have the knowledge to provide the right process for the right product for the customer’s market,” Mathias Hannsbauer, Head of Business Segment Oats at Bühler says.

With all systems ready to go at the end of 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and everything slowed down, from procurement to logistics. Head of Technology in the Bakha Söhne oat mill, Ilyas Karymsakov, was working closely with Bühler at the time.

Mathias Hannsbauer has been supporting Bakha Söhne with their oat processing since 2019.
We have the knowledge to provide the right process for the right product for the customer’s market.

Mathias Hannsbauer, Head of Business Segment Oats at Bühler

“With the facility being on the open steppe, this presented real challenges, like setting up communications, infrastructure, and acquiring additional equipment from third parties. It wasn’t straightforward. Yet three years on, we have built this enterprise and we are eager to grow alongside Bühler,” says Karymsakov.  

Now up and running, one of the roles of the Uzwil team is to support Karymsakov with the execution of the production process. “My technical team are in direct contact with Bakha Söhne’s technical team dealing with daily operational issues,” explains Hannsbauer. “And today we have the great advantage of digitalization, which means we are able to use our Bühler Insights tools. When a customer gives us access, we can go through all the production data, discuss any issues, and suggest adjustments to the production parameters that will optimize efficiency and reuse of side streams as well as reduce maintenance times and energy consumption.” 

A firm focus on quality

Quality has always been fundamental to the farming ethos of the Aripov family. The company has achieved elite seed farming status for its production of grains, perennial grass seeds, and cereals. The crops grown on the farm are organic. Side streams are delivered to feed producers to be turned into feed pellets.

A final quality check of the thickness of an oat flake is carried out in the laboratory.
For a clearer overview of key data, Bakha Söhne uses Mercury MES – a full factory automation system that integrates all processes to increase efficiency and traceability.

This principle of excellence is something the family was keen to extend into their processing operation. “For many years, we’ve been researching this area of processing. We were more concerned with quality over quantity,” explains Aripov. “I believe that Bühler has provided us with a solution specifically for producing quality oat flakes.”

The mill, which has been in operation since May 2023, currently produces 2 tonnes of oat flakes per hour. Growing and producing oats has brought numerous advantages to Bakha Söhne’s business. Because they grow their own supply stock, Aripov believes they are in a better position to produce the desired premium product. “We can have control over the whole process from sowing the oats to the store shelves,” he says.

The high-quality finished oat flakes are now ready for bagging.
The nutty flavor of the oat flakes is perfected in the two-stage heat treatment kiln and flaker.

There are other benefits too. In Akmola, oats yield more than wheat and require less water to grow – an important factor in a semi-arid region. In addition, oats have traditionally been grown here in rotation with other cereal crops to help replenish depleted nutrients in the soil. “Oats act as a kind of healer for the soil. In our conditions, they yield very well at around 30 quintals [3 tonnes] per hectare,” explains Aripov. 

  • Who: Bakha Söhne LLP
  • When: In operation since May 2023.  
  • What: Bakha Söhne processes oats grown by the family business.
  • Where: Pokrovka, Akmola region, Kazakhstan
  • Customer: Bakha Söhne supplies customers in Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and China.
  • Bühler: The Bakha Söhne oat mill is built with the latest Bühler technology, including the MHSA huller, the Twitor BSOA table separator, the MBDA steamer, the Granotherm DNCB kiln, the MDFA flaking mill, the Mercury MES plant automation system, and Bühler Insights.

Giving back and improving livelihoods

For the Aripov family, running a successful business goes hand in hand with investing in the local community. In the town of Pokrovka they have built housing, a school, a bakery, and other infrastructure. The family also supports social causes and charities. “One of the reasons we want to expand the business is that we also want to bring necessary jobs to the residents of Pokrovka and we hope to be able to improve the village of Pokrovka through the factory,” says Aripov.

Raw oats locally cultivated by the Aripov family are inspected for quality before they are processed into oat flakes.

While Bakha Söhne oat mill is now beginning to expand its business into fresh markets in Central Asian states and in China, the family’s ambition is to continue to improve Kazakhstan’s food security by going beyond oat processing.

“In the future we want to expand our product, with Bühler’s help, to produce wheat and barley flakes and flour. We would also like to produce products like granola and muesli that are made of three or four different grains,” Aripov explains. “Through our collaboration with Bühler I believe we’ve built one of the most modern food factories in this part of the world.”

Watch the video to learn more about the collaboration and technology behind Bakha Söhne.

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