U.S.D.A. ahead on flour production data collection

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week was readying mailings to the U.S. flour milling industry for the purpose of gathering data and, beginning in 2015, publishing quarterly flour production statistics.

David Colwell, who is with the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S.D.A., said NASS in recent months has been compiling a list of U.S. flour mills. The mailing will solicit data on third-quarter (July-September) flour production. He said the information will be collected, edited and summarized in November. Mailing for the fourth quarter will be mailed in the final week of December. First-quarter surveys will be sent in late March, he said.

For the past few years, flour mills accounting for roughly 95% of U.S. milling capacity have submitted flour production data to Veris Consulting, Inc. in an effort led and funded by the North American Millers’ Association.

The U.S.D.A. is modeling its process 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. The U.S.D.A. will seek production data from 100% of commercial flour mills in the United States.

U.S.D.A.’s data publication plans are “not yet set in stone” for the statistics related to the second half of 2014, Mr. Colwell said.

“A great deal depends on the response rate and quality of data received for 2014,” Mr. Colwell said. “The purpose of collecting data for 2014 is twofold. Primarily, data collection efforts in 2014 will allow both us as well as the data reporters to work out any kinks in producing and receiving data by a new entity. We fully expect some challenges to exist that will need to be sorted out by both parties.

“Second, the 2014 data will be important for the industry and public to measure against current published 2014 data produced by NAMA and historic data previously generated by the Census Bureau. This should allow for data users to make any necessary adjustments to historic and current data series to line up with the NASS coverage which may or may not contain different respondents in the survey.”

Going forward, quarterly reports are expected to be published about one month after the quarter ends. The first quarter 2015 flour production report is expected to be published April 30. He went on to say this date is not “set in stone” either and will depend, in large part, on the industry’s responsiveness to the department’s surveys.
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