WASHINGTON — Flour production by U.S. mills in January-March 2018 reached a new record for the first quarter at 105,612,000 cwts, up 907,000, or 0.9%, from the previous peak of 104,705,000 in January-March 2017, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In addition to showing a gain in first-quarter production in 2018, the U.S.D.A. largely left unchanged its estimates for 2017 flour production. In its annual flour production summary, NASS pegged the 2017 output at 426,399,000 cwts, just slightly up from the preliminary 426,396,000. It was up 2,696,000, or 0.6%, from 423,703,000 cwts in 2016, up 0.4% from 494,900,000 in 2015 and 0.3% over the previous annual high of 424,950,000 in 2014. Virtually all summary numbers were closely in line with preliminary data as issued three months ago.
While a peak for the first quarter of 2018, January-March flour production was down 3% from October-December, the preceding quarter, at 108,834,000 cwts.
NASS data are now available for 15 consecutive quarters, or since July-September 2014. While data back to July-September 2014 were compiled by 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 record 1,642,000 cwts, up 22,000 from 1,620,000 throughout 2017 and the last half of 2016. The prior record U.S. daily milling capacity was 1,621,000 in April-June 2015.
Flour mill grind in January-March averaged 83.6% of six-day capacity, off from 85.1% a year ago. Capacity utilization was the lowest since 83.5% in each of the first two quarters of 2016. Otherwise, quarterly grind has not been lower since 2001.
Working days in the first quarter totaled 77, up from 76 in both the fourth and a year back (and factoring in the lower rate of daily grind).
Wheat grind in January-March totaled 227,147,000 bus, up 1.4% from 223,964,000 a year back. It was down 3.4% from 235,086,000 in the fourth quarter. The previous peak wheat grind for this quarter was in 2000 at 225,637,000. The all-time high was 247,738,00 in the fourth of that year.
Millfeed output in the first quarter aggregated 1,606,569 tons, a gain of 1.3% from 1,586,308 a year ago. It was down 2.1% from 1,641,094 tons in the fourth quarter. The record for January-March was 2001 at 1,806,152. The top peak was 1,947,407 in October-December 2000.
The extraction rate in January-March was 77.5%, up from 77.2% in the fourth quarter but off from 77.9% a year ago. Extraction was the highest since the start of NASS statistics.
Durum semolina production in the first 2018 quarter aggregated 8,156,000 cwts, up 2.4% from 7,966,000 in January-March 2017. It was down 2.8% from 8,389,000 in the fourth quarter. Semolina data between Census and NASS were only approximate. The most recent Census first-quarter output was in 2011 at 8,593,000 cwts. NASS also shows durum grind in January-March 2018 at 17,114,000 bus, up 2% from 16,777,000 a year ago. It was down 1.8% from 17,421,000 in the fourth quarter.
In line with preliminary numbers issued three months back, NASS shows 2017 durum semolina output at 31,799,000 cwts, 1.5% up from 31,338,000 in 2016. Durum grind aggregated 66,374,000 bus in 2017, against 66,745,000. This was well below earlier Census highs over 32 million.
Flour output ex-semolina in January-March 2017 aggregated 97,456,000 cwts, up 0.7% from 96,739,000 in the same quarter of 2017. It was down 3.1% from 100,445,000 in the fourth quarter. Based on NASS numbers, flour-ex-semolina rate of grind in the first quarter came to 84.8% of six-day capacity, against 88.5% in the fourth and 85.1% a year ago.
Rye flour output totaled 234,000 cwts in the first quarter, against 240,000 in October-December and 222,000 a year ago.
Leading the output in regions and individual states in January-March 2018 was Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin at 10,566,000 cwts, up 6.2% from 9,947,000 in the same quarter a year ago. It was down 0.5% from 10,614,000 in the fourth quarter. Mills in this region operated at 93.8% of six-day capacity, against 98.2% in the fourth and 92% a year ago. The state-grouping accounted for 10% of total production in January-March, against 9.8% in the fourth and 9.5% a year ago.
In second place was California, turning out 7,834,000 cwts, up 1.7% from 7,706,000 a year ago but down 0.5% from 7,783,000 in October-December. Grind rate in California in the current quarter was 83.3%, against 84.9% in the fourth and 84% a year ago. The state represented 7.4% of the national output in January-March, compared with 7.2% in the fourth and 7.4% a year ago.
Slipping to third after having been second a year back was Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington producing 7,806,000 cwts, off 1.9% over 7,960,000 a year ago. It was down 3.6% from 8,101,000 in the fourth quarter. Mill grind averaged 75.8% in January-March, against 81% in the fourth and 79.6% a year back. This state grouping represented 7.4% of the national output in January-March, unchanged from the fourth and down from 7.6% a year ago.
Kansas was fourth at 6,838,000 cwts and Minnesota fifth at 6,772,000. They were followed by North Dakota at 6,599,000 cwts; New Jersey and New York, 6,310,000; Ohio, 6,162,000; Missouri, 5,968,000; Pennsylvania, 5,557,000; Texas, 5,506,000; Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, 4,485,000; Kentucky and Tennessee, 3,926,000; Iowa and Nebraska, 3,684,000; North Carolina, 3,567,000; Maryland and Virginia, 3,185,000; Colorado and Oklahoma, 3,043,000 and Michigan, 2,904,000. Other states were at 4,900,000 cwts.
According to NASS compilations, all U.S. daily flour milling capacity changes since the first quarter of 2017 took place between the current first quarter and October-December 2017. U. S. total capacity in January-March was 1,641,094 cwts, an increase of 22,030 over the fourth and a year back. Leading the increases was Ohio, 6,200 cwts, followed by Minnesota, 5,000; Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, 4,000; Texas, 3,500; Maryland and Virginia, 3,000; Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington, 2,247; California, 1,500; Kansas, 1,100 and Michigan, 500. The sharpest decrease was in Missouri, 3,385 cwts, followed by Iowa and Nebraska, 932, and Pennsylvania, 200. All other states also were down 500 cwts.