WASHINGTON — Production of straight semolina and durum flour by U.S. mills in 2008 decreased to a three-year low of 30,921,000 cwts, down 1,882,000 cwts, or 5.7%, from the near record 32,804,000 in 2007, according to the Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce. This was the smallest durum semolina production since 30,838,000 cwts in 2005. Output in 2008 still was up 3,962,000, or 14.7%, from the recent low of 26,959,000 in 2004. It was 6.1% below record output of 32,930,000 cwts in 2001.

Statistics on durum semolina issued since 2000 are not strictly comparable with earlier years because of a change in the data. Beginning in 2000, the Census Bureau said: "Prior to the first quarter 2000, these data included only establishments classified in Flour Milling, NAICS 311211. These data now include pasta manufacturers if they have and operate a flour mill on site and are producing straight semolina flour or blended semolina durum flour from flour they have milled."

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

At 30,921,000 cwts, semolina and durum flour output in 2008 was only the 11th largest in a series dating back to 1966. The record semolina output occurred in 2001, at 32,930,000 cwts. This was followed by 2007 at 32,804,000, 1994 at 32,631,000, 1996 at 32,623,000, 1993 at 32,488,000, 2002 at 32,411,000, 2006 at 31,948,000, 1992 at 31,905,000, 2000 at 31,749,000 and 1995 at 30,964,000.

Data are not available to determine how much of the semolina output and durum grind fluctuations experienced in the 1990s reflected structural changes in the industry as durum milling capacity expanded at semolina plants. Many in the industry believe the true peak in production was in the late 1990s.

In the first year of the semolina series, 1966, production was 12,441,000 cwts, which is the low.

The decrease of 1,883,000 cwts in 2008 followed three years of increases that started with a gain of 3,879,000 cwts in 2005 following a five-year low in 2004 and continuing with increases of 1,110,000 in 2006 and then a gain of only 856,000 in 2007. Prior to this, there were three successive annual reductions starting with 519,000 in 2002 followed by 2,720,000 in 2003 and 2,732,000 in 2004 resulting in the recent low. Output in 2001 was up 1,181,000 cwts. Comparing old and new numbers for 2000 shows a gain of 5,663,000. Prior to the change in 2000 and the resulting upward adjustment, semolina output had decreased three straight years.

The 1999 decrease of 970,000 cwts had been greatly overshadowed by a reduction of 2,420,000 cwts in 1998 and by the cut of 3,147,000 in 1997. Output in 1996 rose 1,659,000 cwts and in 1995 it fell 1,667,000. Industry observers attribute these decreases to the impact of increased production by captive mills at pasta plants. Some of the recent decreases were mainly due to low- and no-carbohydrate dieting, offset by a greater friendliness to pasta consumption in recent years.

Since durum semolina output was first reported separately in 1966, the total has increased in 27 years and decreased in 15. The average annual increase for this period was 440,098 cwts.

By quarters in 2008, output ranged between a high of 7,869,000 cwts in January-March and a low of 7,549,000 in July-September, while the variation in 2007 was between a high of 8,418,000 in the third quarter and a low of 7,885,000 in the second.

Durum grind in 2008 totaled 68,301,000 bus, down 9.1% from the record 75,115,000 in 2007. The second highest was 73,605,000 in 2006 followed by 2001 at 73,435,000, 1994 at 72,141,000, 2002 at 71,622,000 and 1993 at 70,575,000.

By quarters, 2008 grind ranged from 17,621,000 bus in January-March to 16,593,000 in July-September, while the 2007 variation was between 19,079,000 in the fourth and 18,178,000 in the second.

Based on these statistics, the weighted average extraction rate for semolina in 2008 was 75.5%, compared with 72.8% in 2007, 72.3% in 2006 and 75.8% in 2005.

Output of straight semolina and durum flour in October-December 2008 totaled 7,867,000 cwts, down 4.1% from 8,202,000 in the fourth quarter of 2007. It was up 4.2% from 7,549,000 in July-September.

October-December durum grind totaled 17,316,000 bus, down 9.2% from 19,079,000 in the same quarter of 2007. The fourth quarter was up 4.4% from 16,593,000 in July-September.

Based on these statistics, the extraction rate for October-December was 75.7%, against 75.8% in July-September and 71.6% in October-December 2006.