Whole wheat flour output larger than thought

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — Whole wheat flour production in January-March 2015 was 6,122,000 cwts, according to data issued May 1 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Included in the Flour Milling Products report issued by NASS, whole wheat flour production data also were published for the final two quarters of 2014.

In the first 2015 quarter, production of 6,122,000 cwts equaled 5.9% of all U.S. flour production. While this share total for whole wheat flour still could be characterized as modest, the figure is significantly larger than previously had been indicated.

NASS estimated production of whole wheat flour in October-December 2014 at 5,449,000 cwts, equaling 5% of production in the last quarter of the year. In the third quarter of 2014, NASS estimated whole wheat flour production at 5,517,000 cwts, or 5.2%.

The fourth-quarter figure for whole wheat production is 22% larger than the 4,478,000 cwts of whole wheat flour output reported by the North American Millers’ Association, based on data gathered by Veris Consulting, Inc. Similarly, in the third quarter of 2014, the NASS figure is 23% larger than the 4,502,000 cwts estimated by NAMA.

Overall, the share of all flour production accounted for by whole wheat flour in the NASS report is roughly one percentage point above what was indicated by the figures gathered by Veris.

The NASS figures for whole wheat flour are the first ever gathered based on a survey of the entire flour milling industry. Veris data on whole wheat flour production (and all flour production) are based on a survey of the largest milling companies in the United States, accounting for about 95% of U.S. flour milling capacity. Before Veris began issuing flour production data, whole wheat flour production was gathered and published for several years by Milling & Baking News. These figures too are based on a survey of the largest flour milling companies in the United States, accounting for 95% of flour production.

The discrepancy between the NASS and the Veris data appear to suggest the smallest milling companies produce relatively more whole wheat flour than their larger brethren. If the large companies reported the same whole wheat figures to NASS as they did to Veris, then the smallest 5% of milling companies produced 971,000 cwts of whole wheat flour in the fourth quarter of 2014 (subtracting the Veris estimate from the NASS estimate), or 19% of their total output, and 1,015,000 cwts in the third quarter of 2014, or 21% of their total output.

The NASS report also includes the first ever estimate of whole wheat products milled from durum wheat. The whole wheat durum figures were highly variable from quarter to quarter. In the first quarter of 2015, whole wheat durum semolina and durum flour production was only 155,000 cwts, or 2% of all semolina/durum flour production. In the fourth quarter of 2014, NASS estimated whole wheat semolina/durum flour at 313,000 cwts (or a 3.9% share), and in the third quarter of 2014 estimated 407,000 cwts (or a 5.1% share).

Looking at flour production ex-semolina, the share of all flour accounted for by whole wheat was 6.3% in the first quarter of 2015 (versus 5.9% if durum is included); 5.1% in the fourth quarter of 2014 (versus 5.0% with durum); and 5.2% in the third quarter of 2014 (versus 5.2%).
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