KANSAS CITY — In addition to record total flour production in the first quarter, the US Department of Agriculture published highly favorable whole wheat flour production figures that may have escaped notice. At 5,904,000 cwts, production in the first quarter wasn’t a record for January-March. That was set in 2015, at 6,122,000 cwts. Still, January-March marked the second consecutive quarter in which whole wheat production was solidly higher than the same period the year before – up 7.4% and 7.7%, respectively, in the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020.
The gains in the last two quarters ended a string of numerous quarters in which flour production was down from the year before. The strong production figures represent a welcome interruption of a trend that had seemed to suggest a steady consumer exodus away from whole wheat following heavy milling and baking industry efforts to boost consumption spanning many years.
Additionally, the USDA issued a sharp upward revision for its whole wheat flour production estimates for two quarters last year. While production in the quarters (the first and third) was down from a year earlier, the revisions changed the complexion of whole wheat flour trends for 2019 from a year of steep decline to one in which production was nearly unchanged from 2018. Whole wheat flour production was a steady engine of growth for the milling industry in the early 2000s, and its seeming revival over the past two quarters is a highly welcome development.