WASHINGTON — Flour production in January-March 2021 totaled 103,634,000 cwts, down 4,543,000 cwts, or 4.2%, from a revised 108,177,000 in the first quarter of 2020, according to data issued May 3 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.

 Flour production was down 3,353,000 cwts, or 3.1%, from 106,987,000 in October-December 2020.

The drop of 4.5 million cwts was the largest year-to-year fall in quarterly flour production in more than 18 years — since October-December 2002, when production retreated 5,531,000 cwts from October-December 2001.   It marked a complete erasure of the pandemic-fueled surge last year, when flour production was up 4,577,000, cwts, or 4.4%, from the first quarter of 2019.

Widening the spread between the two years, the January-March 2020 figure was revised upward by NASS by 459,000 cwts, to a quarterly record at 108,177,000 topping the fourth of 2019 at 107,920,000. Last year’s first quarter was the first time in 35 years in which production in a January-March quarter has exceeded flour production the preceding three months,

At 103,634,000 cwts, first-quarter flour production in 2021 was the fifth largest for January-March and up slightly from 103,600,000 cwts in January-March 2019; it was down 1.9% from 105,612,000 in 2018, the second highest for the quarter. It compared with 104,705,000 in 2017, the third largest and 103,909,000 cwts in 2016, the fourth.

The 12-month rolling flour production total (April 2020-March 2021) was 421,254,000 cwts, down 5.6 million, or 1.3%, from 426,854,000 a year ago. The 12-month aggregate was the smallest since the start of NASS compilations and available data back to the first of 2013 at 419,834,000. It also was down 4,543,000, or 1.1%, from the prior quarter’s 12-month total. The record was 428,142,000 in April-June 2018.

The 24-hour flour production capacity in the first quarter totaled 1,585,262 cwts, down 41,998 cwts from 1,627,260 a year earlier. It was 1,585,310 cwts in the fourth quarter of 2020. The high was 1,674,210 cwts in the third quarter of 2019, and capacity has been reduced 88,948 cwts since then.

Grind in the quarter was 86% of six-day capacity, down from 87.6% in the fourth quarter of 2020 and 86.3% in the first. In fact, all quarters since October-December 2019 have been at or above 85% except for April-June 81.5%.

Working days in the first quarter totaled 76, compared with 77 days in the fourth quarter and a year ago.

While showing a sizable upward revision in 2020 first-quarter flour production, the USDA in its 2020 Summary for Flour Milling Products otherwise made no other significant changes in its estimates for last year. Some minuscule wheat grind changes were made, but a number of capacity revisions took place throughout the year, some quite sizable. In the summary also issued May 3, NASS pegged the 2020 output at 425,797,000 cwts, up 3,520,000, or 0.8%, from 422,277,000 cwts in 2019, down 1,074,000, or 0.3%, 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. 

NASS data have now been issued for 27 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.

Wheat grind in January-March totaled 224,517,000 bus, down 3.6% from the quarterly high of 233,010,000 a year back. It was down 3% from 231,476,000 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 quarter of that year.

Millfeed output in the first quarter aggregated 1,631,148 tons, down 1.4% from 1,654,872 a year ago. It was down 1.5% from 1,655,982 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 76.9%, down from 77% in the fourth quarter and 77.4% a year ago. It was 77.9% in January-March 2017 when extraction was the highest since the start of NASS statistics.

Durum semolina production in the first quarter was 8,088,000 cwts, down 52,000, or 0.6%, from 8,140,000 in the first quarter of 2020. It was down 1.4% from 8,203,000 cwts in the fourth. The recent record was 9,155,000 cwts in the second of 2020.

Durum grind in January-March 2021 was 17,243,000 bus, down 0.4% from 17,316,000 a year ago. It was down 0.3% from 17.3 million in the fourth quarter.

Durum mill capacity in January-March was 131,730 cwts, down 2,100 from 133,830 a year ago. Capacity was 131,330 in the first quarter of 2019, 123,230 cwts in January-March 2018.  Durum mill grind in January-March averaged 80.8% of six-day capacity, up from 80.5% a year ago but down from 80.9% in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Unchanged from preliminary numbers issued three months back, NASS shows 2020 durum semolina output at a record 33,802,000, up 1.3% from 31,532,000 in 2019. It was 31,951,000 cwts in 2018, 31,799,000 in 2017 and 31,338,000 cwts in 2016. Durum grind aggregated a record 71,561,000 in 2020 against 66,450,000 bus in 2019, 67,086,000 bus in 2018, 66,374,000 bus in 2017 and 66,745,000 in 2016.

Flour output ex-semolina in January-March 2021 aggregated 95,546,000 cwts, down 4.5% from 100,037,000 cwts a year ago. It was down 3.3% from 98,784,000 in the fourth quarter. Based on NASS numbers, flour-ex-semolina rate of grind in the first quarter came to 86.5% of six-day capacity, against 88.3% in the fourth quarter and 87% a year ago.

Rye flour production in January-March totaled 209,000 cwts compared with 216,000 in the fourth quarter of 2020 and 244,000 a year back.

Leading the output in regions and individual states in January-March 2020 again was Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin at 11,770,000 cwts, up 0.9% from 11,663,000 in the same quarter a year ago. It was down 0.3% from 11,805,000 in the fourth quarter. Mills in this region operated at 94.9% of six-day capacity, against 93.9% in the fourth and 92.8% a year ago. The state-grouping accounted for 11.4% of total production in January-March, against 11% in the fourth quarter and 10.8% a year ago.

Now in second was Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington producing 7,439,000 cwts, losing 5.1% from 7,842,000 a year ago. It was up 1.2% from 7,353,000 cwts in the fourth quarter. Mill grind averaged 78.1% in January-March, against 76.2% in the fourth quarter and 80.1% a year back. This state grouping represented 7.2% of the national output in January-March, against 6.9% in the fourth quarter and 7.2% a year ago.

In third place was California, turning out 7,415,000 cwts, down 9.3% from 8,172,000 a year ago. It was down 0.3% from 7,437,000 cwts in the fourth quarter. Grind rate in California in the current quarter was 89.8%, against 88.9% in the fourth quarter and 88.1% a year ago. The state represented 7.2% of the national output in January-March, compared with 7% in the fourth quarter and 7.6% a year ago.

Kansas again ranked fourth at 6,891,000 cwts and North Dakota fifth at 6,696,000. They were followed by Ohio, 6,301,000; Missouri, 6,049,000; Texas, 6,003,000; New Jersey and New York, 5,882,000 cwts; Minnesota, 5,162,000; Pennsylvania, 5,008,000; Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, 4,041,000; Kentucky and Tennessee, 3,942,000; Iowa and Nebraska, 3,737,000; Colorado an Oklahoma, 3,473,000; North Carolina, 3,349,000; Maryland and Virginia, 2,914,000; and Michigan, 2,400,000. Other states were at 5,162,000 cwts.

US total capacity in January-March was 1,585,262 cwts, a decrease of 41,998 from a year back. Leading the decreases was Minnesota, down 14,100 cwts, followed by California, 11,800; Ohio, 8,500; Pennsylvania, 7,000; Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington. 1,800; North Dakota, 400; Texas, 350 and Maryland and Virginia, 48, also the only change from the fourth quarter.