WASHINGTON — Flour production in January-March 2020 set a record for the quarter at 107,272,000 cwts, up 3,672,000, or 3.5%, from 103,600,000 in the first quarter of 2019, according to data issued May 1 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.

 Flour production was down 648,000 cwts, or 0.6%, from 107,920,000 in October-December 2019.

At 107,272,000 cwts, first-quarter flour production was up 1.6% from 105,612,000 in the first quarter in 2018, the second highest for the quarter, and 2.5% over 104,705,000 cwts in January-March 2017, the third.

In addition to showing an increase in first-quarter production in 2020, the USDA made no significant changes in its estimates for 2019 flour production. In its annual flour production summary also issued May 1, NASS pegged the 2019 output at 422,277,000 cwts, down 4,594,000 cwts, or 1.1%, from the record 426,871,000 in 2018. It compares with 426,399,000 cwts in 2017, 423,703,000 in 2016, 424,900,000 in 2015 and 424,950,000 in 2014. Other summary numbers also were unchanged from preliminary data as issued three months ago. 

NASS data have now been issued for 23 consecutive quarters, or since July-September 2014. While data back to July-September 2014 were compiled by NASS, statistics spanning the period between July-September 2011 and the second quarter of 2014 originated from the North American Millers’ Association (NAMA) panel of the largest US mills and subsequently underwent interpolation by Milling & Baking News to make the data comparable with earlier statistics compiled by the US Census Bureau.

According to NASS, the US 24-hour flour production capacity in the first quarter of this year totaled 1,614,050 cwts, down 33,781 cwts from 1,647,831 a year earlier. It was down 35,700 cwts from 1,649,750 cwts in the fourth quarter of 2019. The record high for flour production capacity was 1,674,210 cwts in the third quarter, and capacity has been cut 60,160 cwts since then.

Flour mill grind in January-March averaged 86.3% of six-day capacity, up from 85% in the fourth quarter of 2019 and 82.7% in the first quarter. It was the heaviest rate of grind for any quarter since 86.7% in July-September 2018 as well as the highest first quarter since 2014, or before the start of NASS compilations. An increase of 1.3 percentage points in grind between the fourth and first quarters also is extraordinary. Based on available data, the last time the first quarter operating rate jumped as much from the previous quarter was January-March 1985, when grind at 87.2% was up 1.8 points from the preceding quarter. Since then the decreases between these two quarters have ranged from 13 points in 2001 to   0.3 in 2010.

Grind of 82.7% a year ago, January-March 2019, was the lowest for any quarter since 78.7% in April-June 2001 and the lowest first quarter also since 2001, when it was 81.3%.

Working days in the first quarter totaled 77 days, boosted by the leap year but unchanged from both the fourth quarter and a year back.

Wheat grind in January-March totaled a quarterly record of 232,164,000 bus, up 3.9% from 223,350,000 bus a year back. It was down 0.1% from 232,428,000 bus in the fourth quarter. The prior quarterly high was 227,147,000 bus in 2018 and third was 226,890,000 in 2012.  The long-standing peak wheat grind for the first quarter, now the fourth highest, was at 225,637,000 bus in 2000. The all-time high for any quarter was 247,738,000 bus in the fourth of that year.

Millfeed output in the first quarter aggregated 1,645,973 tons, an increase of 4% from 1,582,201 a year ago. It was also up 1.3% from 1,624,974 tons in the fourth quarter. The record for January-March was 2001 at 1,806,152 tons. The peak for any quarter was 1,947,407 tons in October-December 2000.

The extraction rate in January-March was 77%, down from 77.4% in the fourth quarter and 77.3% a year ago It was 77.9% three years ago when extraction was the highest since the start of NASS statistics.

Durum semolina production in the first quarter of 2020 aggregated 8,140,000 cwts, up 235,000, or 3%, from 7,905,000 a year ago. It was down 364,000, or 4.3%, from 8,504,000 cwts in the fourth quarter. Semolina data from 2012 until mid-2014 are approximations by Milling & Baking News. The most recent Census first-quarter output was in 2011 at 8,593,000 cwts. The quarterly high was 8,696,000 in 2000. The overall record was 8,770,000 in 1994.

NASS also shows durum grind in January-March 2020 at 17,316,000 bus, up 5.1% from 16,470,000 a year ago. It was down 4% from 18,035,000 in the fourth quarter.

Durum mill capacity in January-March was 131,330 cwts, unchanged from a year ago. Capacity was 123,230 cwts in January-March 2018 compared with 123,330 cwts in balance of 2018.  Durum mill grind in January-March averaged 80.5% of six-day capacity, up from 79.2% a year ago but down from 84.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019. For all of 2019 durum mill grind was 78.2% versus 84.4% in 2018 and, 89.8% in 2017.

Unchanged from preliminary numbers issued three months back, NASS shows 2019 durum semolina output at 31,532,000, down 1.3% from 31,951,000 cwts in 2018. It was 31,799,000 in 2017 and 31,338,000 cwts in 2016. Durum grind aggregated 66,450,000 bus in 2019, 67,086,000 bus in 2018, 66,374,000 bus in 2017 and 66,745,000 in 2016. Semolina was well below earlier Census semolina highs over 32 million bus.

 Flour output ex-semolina in January-March 2020 aggregated 99,132,000 cwts, up 3.6% over 95,695,000 cwts a year ago. It was down 0.3% from 99,416,000 in the fourth quarter. Based on NASS numbers, flour-ex-semolina rate of grind in the first quarter came to 86.8% of six-day capacity, against 85% in the fourth quarter and 83% a year ago.

Rye flour output totaled 242,000 cwts in the first quarter, against 214,000 in October-December and 210,000 a year ago.

Leading the output in regions and individual states in January-March 2020 again was Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin at 11,662,000 cwts, up 9.8% from 10,619,000 in the same quarter a year ago. It was up 1.2% from 11,529,000 in the fourth quarter. Mills in this region operated at 93.2% of six-day capacity, against 85% in the fourth and 95.5% a year ago. The state-grouping accounted for 10.9% of total production in January-March, against 10.7% in the fourth quarter and 10.3% a year ago.

Again in second place was California, turning out 8,172,000 cwts, up 4.4% from 7,826,000 a year ago. It was up 0.5% from 8,133,000 cwts in the fourth quarter. Grind rate in California in the current quarter was 87.6%, against 87.2% in the fourth quarter and 84.3% a year ago. The state represented 7.6% of the national output in January-March, compared with 7.5% in the fourth quarter and 7.6% a year ago.

Repeating in third was Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington producing 7,839,000 cwts, gaining 7.1% from 7,319,000 a year ago. It was up 7.2% from 7,312,000 cwts in the fourth quarter. Mill grind averaged 80.9% in January-March, against 75.5% in the fourth quarter and 76.6% a year back. This state grouping represented 7.3% of the national output in January-March, against 7.2% in the fourth quarter and 7.1% a year ago.

Kansas again ranked fourth at 7,197,000 cwts and North Dakota fifth at 6,557,000. They were followed by New Jersey and New York, 6,288,000 cwts; Missouri, 6,220,000; Texas, 6,172,000; Ohio, 5,950,000; Pennsylvania, 5,691,000; Minnesota, 5,506,000; Kentucky and Tennessee, 4,296,000; Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, 4,249,000; Iowa and Nebraska, 3,952,000; North Carolina, 3,521,000; Colorado an Oklahoma, 3,483,000; Maryland and Virginia, 2,871,000; and Michigan, 2,351,000. Other states were at 5,295,000 cwts.

US total capacity in January-March was 1,614,050 cwts, a decrease of 33,781 from a year back. Leading the decreases was Minnesota, 26,700 cwts, followed by Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, 6,400; Kansas, 6,000; Ohio, 4,500; Maryland and Virginia, 4,000; Pennsylvania, 2,400; California, 1,071; and Kentucky and Tennessee, 150. Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin showed a net gain of 16,300 over a year ago and New Jersey and New York, 1,200.

January-March capacity also was down 35,700 cwts from the fourth quarter. Over this period Minnesota decreased 18,000 cwts; Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, 13,700 partly offsetting an earlier gain (30,000 cwts between the second and third quarters last year) and Maryland and Virginia, the already indicated 4,000.