U.S. flour output down 0.6% in '08, still third largest on record
U.S. flour output down 0.6% in '08, still third largest on record
BakingBusiness.com, February 24, 2009
by Neil Sosland

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WASHINGTON —Production of wheat flour by U.S. mills in 2008 decreased 0.6% from 2007 but still turned out to be the third largest total of record, according to preliminary data issued by the Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Output in the 2008 calendar year amounted to 416,284,000 cwts, down 2,552,000 from 418,836,000 cwts in 2007. It also was down 4,986,000, or 1.2%, from the record of 421,270,000 cwts set in 2000.

The past year’s output decrease was the first reduction in four years. It followed a recovery in flour production that began with a rise of hardly 1 million cwts in 2005 and continued in 2006 with a larger gain. These three years of increases reversed a period of years in which flour output had been on a downward course. Output in 2008 was up 21,584,000 cwts, or 5.5%, from the recent low of 394,700,000 in 2002.

Along with a small decrease in flour output, grind of wheat and production of millfeed in 2008 recorded significant reductions.

The North American Millers’ Association provides funding to the Census Bureau in support of the compilation of these statistics.

Production in only seven years has exceeded the 400-million-cwt mark. In addition to the 2000 production peak at 421,270,000 cwts and second place 2007 at 418,836,000, 2008 was at 416,284,000, 1999 at 411,968,000, 2001 at 404,521,000, 1997 at 404,143,000 and 2006 at 403,391,000. The year 1998 followed at 398,914,000.

The decrease of 2,552,000 cwts in 2008 was the sharpest since 2002 when output dropped 9,821,000. In contrast, the 2007 increase of 15,445,000 cwts was thelargest year-to-year gain since 1993, or in 14 years. It was almost twice the gain of 8,418,000 in 2006 over 2005 and much more than the increase of 1,048,000 in 2005. It contrasts with a decrease of 2,290,000 in 2004 from 2003. An increase of 1,515,000 occurred in 2003.

The 15,445,000-cwt increase in 2007 was the seventh-largest annual gain. The largest was 31 million cwts in 1945 in response to a surge in post-World War II relief shipments. These increases were overshadowed by output drops of 9,821,000 cwts in 2002 and 16,749,000 in 2001. The latter was the largest setback since 1949 when U.S. flour production plunged 44,782,000 cwts with the sudden halt of relief shipments to Europe.

At the same time, the three successive years of increases through 2007 represented the first time this has happened since 1991-94 when flour output rose in four successive years, ranging from 5,100,000 in 1994 to 16,590,000 in 1993.

Starting with the period beginning in 1970, flour production by U.S. mills has increased in 27 years and decreased in 12. In this same period, annual changes ranged from an increase of 20,680,000 cwts in 1983 to the decrease of 16,749,000 cwts in 2001.

Since the start of Census Bureau compilations in 1926, output has increased in 53 years and decreased in 29. For the entire period, production has risen at an annual average rate of 2,507,723 cwts. As noted above, the sharpest increase was 31 million cwts in 1945 to supply post-World War II relief shipments to war-ravaged nations. The largest decrease was 44,782,000 cwts in 1949, as these relief shipments ended.

Production of wheat flour in 2007 included durum semolina output of 30,921,000 cwts, the Census Bureau said. This was down 1,883,000, or 5.7%, from 32,804,000 cwts in 2007. Given that the total flour reduction for 2008 from 2007 was 2,552,000, semolina accounted for a major share, actually 73.8%, of that decrease.

Flour production-ex-semolina in 2008 decreased 669,000 cwts, or 0.2%, to 385,363,000, compared with 386,032,000 in 2007. It was up 3.7% from 371,443,000 in 2006, up 5.8% from 364,135,000 in 2005 and 5% over 366,966,000 in 2004. The current total also was 5.1% above 366,524,000 in 2003, and 6.4% above 362,289,000 in 2002. It was up 3.7% from 371,591,000 in 2001 but down 1.1% from the record in 2000 of 389,521,000 cwts. It also was 0.1% less than 385,882,000 in 1999 although data for the latter year are not strictly comparable because of a new definition of what was a durum mill effective in 2000.

The Census Bureau in 1998 discontinued monthly flour production reports, which had been compiled since 1926, in favor of quarterly data. This was the most important change in the compilations since 1981, when the Census Bureau made major revisions in its monthly and annual reports. Data on rate of grind, average flour production per working day and extraction were discontinued. This prompted Milling & Baking News to calculate these measures based on statistics provided by the Census Bureau.

Milling & Baking News elected to base its computations of milling operations and average production per working day on a six-day workweek, whereas since 1950 the Census Bureau had based these compilations on a five-day week.

By quarters, output in 2008 ranged from 108,278,000 in July-September to 101,618,000 in January-March, while the variation in 2007 was between 109,017,000 cwts in the third quarter and 100,255,000 cwts in the first.

Average monthly production of flour in 2008 was 34,690,000 cwts, down slightly from 34,903,000 in 2007.

Average production of flour per working day in 2008 was computed at 1,352,000 cwts, against 1,364,000 in 2007. The daily average compared with 1,318,000 in 2006, 1,287,000 in 2005. 1,279,000 in 2004, 1,291,000 in 2003, 1,285,000 in 2002 and 1,318,000 in 2001. The record daily average was 1,372,000 cwts in 2000, followed by 1,364,000 in 2007 and 1,352,000 in 2008.

These averages reflect a simple arithmetic average of the quarterly computations. By quarters, flour output per working day in 2008 ranged from 1,406,000 cwts in the third quarter to 1,320,000 in the first, while the variation in 2007 was between 1,434,000 cwts in the third quarter and 1,302,000 in the first.

The daily average in 2008 was based on 308 days, up from 307 days in 2007, 306 days in 2006, and 307 in 2005 but unchanged from 308 in 2004. The missing day in 2006 with 307 the norm reflects the fact that the year began and ended on Sunday. The extra day in 2008 and 2004 was Leap Year’s Feb. 29.

Capacity at 1,523,000 cwts

The Census Bureau estimated the 24-hour capacity of U.S. mills in

October-December 2008 at 1,523,000 cwts, down 12,000 cwts from 1,535,000 a year earlier. Daily capacity was 1,506,000 cwts at the end of 2006 and 1,492,000 at the end of 2005.

The peak daily capacity was 1,604,000 cwts in April-June 2001, followed by 1,588,000 in January-March 2001, 1,548,000 in April-June 2008, 1,543,000 in both July-September 2001 and 2008, 1,540,000 in January-March 2008 and 1,535,000 in both July-September and October-December 2007.

As recently as June 1993, the 24-hour milling capacity had been placed at 1,348,000 cwts, then a record, and followed by sizable upward revisions. Prior to these changes, the peak in U.S. milling capacity was 1,296,000 cwts in June 1991.

Even earlier, the daily capacity high was 1,223,596 cwts in 1948, which ruled as the peak for 40 years. But the earlier years also were not strictly comparable because of changes in Census Bureau definitions.

Operating rate down to 87.9%

Average rate of flour milling operations in 2008 was 87.9% of capacity based on the six-day week, down from a seven-year high of 89.1% in 2007. It was 87.8% in 2006, 86.2% in 2005 and 85.5% in both 2004 and in 2003, as well as 86.4% in 2002. It was 84.2% in 2001, 90.3% in 2000, 88.4% in 1999, 89.1% in 1998, 91.6% in 1997 and 91.7% in 1996.

By quarters, the average rate of grind in 2008 varied between 91.1% in July-September and 85.5% in April-June, while the range in 2007 was between 93.4% in the third and 85.2% in the first quarter.

Wheat grind by U.S. mills in 2008 aggregated 906,503,000 bus, down 1.9% from 923,756,000 bus in 2007. The grind compared with 894,527,000 bus in 2006, 884,101,000 in 2005, 876,047,000 in 2004 and 889,188,000 in 2003. It was the fifth largest wheat grind. The record was 944,868,000 bus in 2000, followed by 923,756,000 in 2007, 917,797,000 in 1999, 914,036,000 in 2001 and 906,503,000 in 2008. To date, wheat grind in only these five years has surpassed 900 million bus.

The range of quarterly grind was between 234,873,000 bus in July-September and 223,018,000 in April-June, while the variation in 2007 was between 239,315,000 in the third quarter to 222,007,000 in the first.

Weighted average flour extraction rate (the average percentage of flour extracted from wheat) by U.S. mills in 2008 rose to what is likely a new record (going back at least several decades) of 76.5%, against 75.6% in 2007. It compares with 75.2% in 2006, 74.5% in 2005, 74.9% in 2004, 74.3% in 2003, 74% in 2002, 73.8% in 2001, 74.3% in 2000 and 74.8% in 1999. The previous high for extraction was 76% in 1997.

Millfeed production in 2008 totaled 6,756,144 tons, down 4.9% from 7,102,877 in 2007. It was 6,916,164 in 2006, 6,826,308 in 2005, and 6,763,793 in 2004. The record was 7,374,115 tons in 2000, followed by 7,274,979 in 2001 and 7,185,908 in 1994.

By quarters, millfeed production varied from 1,760,317 tons in July-September to 1,667,033 in January-March, while the variation in 2007 was between 1,869,622 in the third quarter and 1,698,633 in the first.

October-December down 2.4%

Flour output in the fourth quarter of 2008, October-December, amounted to 104,501,000 cwts, down 2.4% from 107,063,000 cwts a year ago. The record was October-December 2000 at 109,673,000 cwts, followed by July-September 2007 at 109,017,000, July-September 2000 at 108,838,000, July-September 2008 at 108,278,000, October-December 1999 at 108,213,000 and October-December 2007 at 107,063,000.

October-December was the third consecutive quarter to show a decrease from a year earlier. Losses in this period ranged from 2,562,000 cwts in October-December to 614,000 in April-June. This in turn followed a record 11 consecutive quarters of gains from a year ago, ranging from 4,603,000 in October-December 2007 to 677,000 in October-December 2005. The extended increases, in turn, followed four successive quarters all down from a year back, with decreases ranging from 2,163,000 to 533,000.

From the start of quarterly reporting, output in 34 quarters has exceeded 100 million cwts. October-December 2008 was the 12th largest total for any quarter and the seventh for the fourth quarter. The record October-December was in 2000 at 109,673,000 cwts, followed by 1999 at 108,213,000, 2007 at 107,063,000, 1998 at 106,525,000 and 1997 at 106,119,000. The recent low for the fourth quarter was October-December 1976 at 68,445,000.

Flour output in October-December 2008 was down 3.5% from 108,278,000 cwts in the July-September quarter.

Average flour production per working day in October-December 2008 was 1,357,000 cwts, down from 1,406,000 in July-September and from 1,390,000 in the fourth quarter of 2007. The record was 1,443,000 cwts in October-December 2000, followed by July-September 2007 at 1,434,000, 1,413,000 in July-September 2000, 1,406,000 in July-September 2008 and 1,405,000 in the fourth quarter of 1999.

Average rate of mill operations in October-December was 89.1% of six-day capacity, down from 91.1% in July-September and from 90.6% in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Wheat grind in October-December amounted to 225,117,000 bus, down 4.7% from 236,285,000 in the fourth quarter of 2007. It was down 4.2% from 234,873,000 in July-September. The record was 247,738,000 in October-December 2000.

The extraction rate in October-December, as calculated by Milling & Baking News, was a record (based on available data) 77.4%, up from the previous high of 76.8% in July-September and from 75.5% in October-December 2007.

Millfeed production in October-December totaled 1,636,415 tons, a decrease of 8.3% from 1,784,596 a year ago. It was down 7% from 1,760,317 in the third.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, February 24, 2008, starting on Page 1. Click here to search that archive.

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