WASHINGTON — Flour production by U.S. mills in the first quarter of 2009 decreased 0.9% from the record output in the same 2008 quarter, according to the Bureau of the Census of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Output in January-March amounted to 100,486,000 cwts, down 896,000 from 101,382,000 produced in the first three months of last year.

The report for the first quarter included revised numbers for 2008 from the 2008 Summary issued just prior to the current report.

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

The decrease in January-March 2009 production marked the third consecutive quarter in which output fell below a year earlier. This followed an extraordinary streak of 12 successive quarters of increases that began in July-September 2005 and ended in April-June 2008 with year-over-year increases ranging between 4,603,000 cwts in the fourth quarter of 2007 and just 7,000 in the second quarter of 2008. There was a second run of seven increases between July-September 1982 and January-March 1984 with the range between 8,905,000 in July-September 1983 and 231,000 in January-March 1984.

The 12 consecutive quarterly gains stood in marked contrast to the period immediately prior to July-September 2005, when four successive quarters lagged a year earlier.

Since the start of 2000, output increases over a year ago have occurred in 21 of 37 quarters. The sharpest decrease was July-September 2001 when output fell 6,761,000 cwts from a year earlier. The widest increase occurred in January-March 2000, up 5,017,000 cwts. The largest year-to-year increase in the past decade was 7,230,000 cwts in April-June 1999. There was an increase of 7,902,000 in January-March 1993.

Output in January-March 2009 was the third largest on record for the first quarter. The record occurred in January-March 2008, at 101,382,000, followed by the first quarter in 2000 at 101,110,000. The first quarter in 2009 was third at 100,486,000 followed by January-March 2007 at 100,255,000. These were the only first quarters to top the 100-million-cwt-mark. The recent low for the first quarter was January-March 1976, at 66,446,000.

The peak in quarterly flour production occurred in the fourth quarter of 2000, when output reached 109,673,000 cwts. This was followed by July-September 2007 at 109,017,000 and July-September 2000 at 108,838,000. The first quarter 2009 production was the 30th-largest. Output in 35 quarters has exceeded the 100-million-mark.

January-March flour output decreased 3.6% from 104,218,000 cwts in October-December 2008.

Average monthly production in January-March 2009 was 33,495,000 cwts, compared with 33,794,000 in the first quarter of 2008. The Census Bureau no longer issues monthly flour production reports.

Flour-ex-semolina decreases 1.3%

Ex-semolina flour production in January-March totaled, 92,278,000 cwts, down 1,245,000, or 1.3%, from the record 93,523,000 in the first quarter of 2008. It was the third largest total for the quarter. The current flour-ex-semolina total was down 136,000, or 0.1%, from 92,414,000 in the first quarter of 2000, the second highest for this quarter.
Flour-ex-semolina production also was down 4,073,000, or 4.2%, from 96,351,000 in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Average daily production

Average flour production per working day in January-March, based on the six-day week and calculated by Milling & Baking News, was 1,322,000 cwts, against 1,353,000 in October-December and 1,317,000 in January-March 2008. Computations for January-March 2008 were based on 76 working days, down from 77 in October-December 2008 and in January-March 2008.

The 24-hour capacity of U.S. mills in the first quarter was placed by the Census Bureau at 1,531,000 cwts. This was unchanged from October-December and down 17,000 from 1,548,000 a year ago. The recent high in daily capacity was April-June 2008 at 1,556,000. It was the largest since the all-time record in April-June 2001 of 1,604,000. From that mark, daily capacity was down 73,000 cwts, or 4.6%.

Based on the output and capacity data, mills in January-March 2009 operated at 86.4% of six-day capacity, down from 88.4% in October-December, but up from 85.1% in the first quarter of 2008. The recent low in mill grind occurred in April-June 2001, at 78.7%, which was the slowest since April-June 1977 at 77.8%. The latter was the slowest quarterly rate of grind since the start of these records in 1976.

Grind increases 1.4%

Wheat grind in January-March amounted to 217,334,000 bus, down 2.6% from 223,180,000 in the same quarter of 2008. It compared with 222,007,000 in 2007 and 216,110,000 in 2006. The record wheat grind for a quarter occurred in October-December 2000, at 247,738,000 bus.

Flour extraction in January-March, as calculated by Milling & Baking News, averaged 77.1%, unchanged from October-December and up from 75.7% in January-March 2008. This 77.1% extraction is the all-time high.

Millfeed production in January-March amounted to 1,579,805 tons, down 5.1% from 1,664,474 in the first quarter of 2008. It was down 3.1% from 1,630,569 tons in October-December.