U.S.D.A. taking over flour production survey, report

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — The collection and dissemination of U.S. flour production data will transition in coming months to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a spokesperson for the U.S.D.A. said. This will replace, probably at the start of 2015, the flour output data that has been gathered for the past several years by the North American Millers’ Association through Veris Consulting, Inc.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service, the U.S.D.A. arm that publishes Crop Production, Grain Stocks and many other key reports, will launch its Current Agricultural Industry Report (CAIR) focused on flour milling.

NASS said flour milling companies will be contacted in the near future as the department works to establish contacts for gathering data across the industry. While many details of the pending report on flour production remain to be finalized, the U.S.D.A. said it will be modeled on what was gathered and published by the Bureau of the Census of the U.S. Department of Commerce beginning in 1904 and continuing until 2011 when funding shortfalls resulted in the termination of this report and many others.

Data from flour production reports have been used within milling and beyond to measure both the health of the industry and the grain-based foods business overall. The data are essential to estimating food use of wheat and wheat supply-demand data.

During the last three years, flour production data have been gathered only from the nation’s largest flour milling companies, accounting for about 95% of capacity, by Veris Consulting, Inc., an organization retained by the North American Millers’ Association. NAMA member companies have funded the collection of the data by Veris. The U.S.D.A. said its work has been funded by Congress and that it will gather flour production data from all milling companies and not only the largest. While participation in the NAMA flour report was voluntary, responding to the U.S.D.A. survey is mandated by law.

In addition to flour milling, CAIR surveys will be conducted by NASS for the cotton, ethanol production, and fat and oilseeds industries.

Joseph T. Reilly, NASS administrator, said the decision to gather the data was prompted by feedback received by the U.S.D.A. from the moment the Census halted its data collection.

“As soon as the Census Bureau announced they were discontinuing the Current Industrial Reports, we began hearing from agriculture stakeholders around the country about the impact this decision can have on the industry,” Mr. Reilly said. “The reports are such an important element of sound economic policy planning and are used for market analysis, forecasting, and decision making that we knew we had to provide the data and I’m glad that beginning this year NASS is able to do just that.”

NASS cited its long history of collecting and publishing agricultural and food data — nearly 500 reports, focused primarily on U.S. agricultural production, each year. The department also expressed its commitment to “protecting its respondents’ individual data, as required by federal law.”

Still unclear is whether the U.S.D.A. will collect data on whole wheat flour production as Veris has done, the frequency with which data will be collected and reported (monthly versus quarterly) and when the Department will issue its first report.

James McCarthy, president of NAMA, said he has held preliminary discussions with representatives of the U.S.D.A., and has reviewed the Department’s plans with NAMA board members. He said Veris currently is preparing to issue a report on behalf of NAMA for the second quarter of 2014, and will continue to gather and issue flour production data until a transition is successfully completed.
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