Bag of flour
January-March flour production was down 3% from October-December.

WASHINGTON — Flour production by U.S. mills in January-March 2017 reached a new record for the first quarter of 104,801,000 cwts, up 0.9% from the previous peak of 103,909,000 in January-March 2016, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even as it estimated first-quarter production increasing in 2017, the U.S.D.A. revised downward by a significant margin its estimates for 2016 flour production. In its annual flour production summary, the NASS pegged the 2016 output at 423,703,000 cwts, down 1,703,000, or 0.4%, from the preliminary 425,406,000. This, in turn, was the smallest yearly flour output since 2012 when the total was 420,365,000.

While a peak for the first quarter of 2017, January-March flour production was down 3% from October-December, the preceding quarter, at 108,080,000 cwts.

NASS data are now available for 11 consecutive quarters, or since July-September 2014. While data back to July-September 2014 were compiled by the NASS, statistics beginning with July-September 2011 through the second quarter of 2014 originated from the North American Millers’ Association (NAMA) panel of the largest U.S. mills and subsequently interpolated by Milling & Baking News to make the data comparable with earlier statistics compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

U.S. 24-hour mill capacity in January-March was a near record 1,620,000 cwts, unchanged from the third and fourth quarters and up 4,000 from a year earlier. Although the rounded total was unchanged from October-December the actual total was slightly off. The record U.S. daily milling capacity was 1,621,000 in April-June 2015.

Operate at 85.1% of capacity

Flour mill grind in January-March averaged 85.1% of six-day capacity, up from 83.5% a year ago, which was the lowest since 78.7% in April-June 2001. First-quarter capacity utilization was down from 86.7% in the fourth quarter. U.S. 24-hour mill capacity in January-March was a near record 1,620,000 cwts, unchanged from the third and fourth quarters and up 4,000 from a year ago.

Working days in the first quarter totaled 76, down from 77 in both the fourth and a year back.

Wheat grind in January-March totaled 224,093,000 bus, down 0.1% from 224,220,000 a year back. It also was down 3.7% from 232,642,000 in the fourth quarter. The peak wheat grind for this quarter was in 2000 at 225,637,000.

Millfeed output in the first quarter aggregated 1,587,246 tons, down 0.5% from 1,595,910 a year ago. It was down 4.4% from 1,659,496 tons in the fourth quarter. The record for January-March was 2001 at 1,806,152.

The extraction rate in January-March was 77.9%, up from 77.4% in the fourth quarter and 77.2% in January-March 2016. It was the highest since the start of NASS statistics.

Semolina production up 9.8%

Durum semolina production in the first 2017 quarter aggregated 8,079,000 cwts, up 4.8% from 7,709,000 in January-March 2016. It was down 5.6% from 8,554,000 in the fourth quarter. Semolina data between Census and the NASS was only approximate. The most recent Census first-quarter output was in 2011 at 8,593,000 cwts. The NASS also shows durum grind in January-March 2017 at 16,680,000 bus, down 1.7% from 16,696,000 a year ago. It was down 7.1% from 18,375,000 in the fourth quarter.

Flour output ex-semolina in January-March 2017 aggregated 96,722,000 cwts, up 0.5% from 96,200,000 in the same quarter of 2016. It was down 2.8% from 99,526,000 in the fourth quarter. Based on NASS numbers, flour-ex-semolina rate of grind in the first quarter came to 85.3% of six-day capacity, against 86.6% in the fourth and 83.9% a year ago.

Rye flour output totaled 222,000 cwts in the first quarter, against 238,000 in October-December and down 17% from 267,000 a year ago.

Leading the output in regions and individual states in January-March 2017 was Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin at 9,906,000 cwts, down 1% from 10,006,000 in the same quarter a year ago. The states were down 2.8% from 10,196,000 in the fourth quarter. Mills in this region operated at 91.5% of six-day capacity, against 93% in the fourth and 91.2% a year ago. The state-grouping accounted for 9.5% of total production in January-March, against 9.4% in the fourth and 9.6% a year ago.

In second place was Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington producing 7,966,000 cwts, gaining 4.9% over 7,591,000 a year ago. It was down 4.2% from 8,318,000 in the fourth quarter. Mill grind averaged 79.7% in January-March, against 82.1% in the fourth and 74.4% a year back. This state-grouping represented 7.6% of the national output in January-March, compared with 7.7% in the fourth and 7.3% a year ago.

California slips to third

Now ranking third after having been second a year back was California, turning out 7,706,000 cwts, up 1.3% from 7,609,000 a year ago but down 1% from 7,787,000 in October-December. Grind rate in California in the current quarter was 84%, against 83.8% in the fourth and 81.9% a year ago. The state represented 7.4% of the national output in January-March, compared 
with 7.2% in the fourth and 7.3% a year ago.

Minnesota was fourth at 6,862,000 cwts, and Kansas was fifth at 6,565,000. They were followed by New Jersey and New York, 6,382,000; North Dakota, 6,312,000; Ohio, 6,024,000; Missouri, 5,713,000; Pennsylvania, 5,569,000; Texas, 5,542,000; Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, 4,563,000; Kentucky and Tennessee, 4,038,000; Iowa and Nebraska, 3,795,000; North Carolina, 3,593,000; Colorado and Oklahoma, 3,532,000; Maryland and Virginia, 3,050,000 and Michigan, 2,772,000. Other states were at 4,911,000 cwts.

According to the NASS, U.S. daily flour milling capacity in January-March was 1,619,801 cwts, an increase of 3,832, or 0.2%, over a year back and unchanged from October-December. North Dakota capacity in the first quarter was up 11,500 from a year back, offset by decreases in Iowa and Nebraska of 6,700 cwts; and Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington, down 968 cwts.