Global flour output

by Morton Sosland
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Compilations of annual flour production by countries around the world by the International Grains Council (IGC) show the usual wide variance in output patterns. Using output in 2000 as the base for making comparisons, the division in many regions of the world between countries showing increases and those with reductions was often nearly 50-50, with a slight edge for gains.

Using that 2000 base and looking on output statistics for 2009 in most instances, the IGC aggregate data for North America and Europe indicate little flour output change for the first decade of the 21st century. This was in sharp contrast to South America where most countries reporting flour output showed significant gains for the 2000-09 period. Trends in both Africa and Asia were, not surprisingly, pointing to increased flour production for that decade.

For some years, the IGC has not included an estimate of global flour production in its annual survey. Instead, it estimates food use of wheat, which for the 2009-10 season was put at 451,700,000 tonnes of wheat equivalent. Using 16.1 as the number of hundredweights produced in milling a tonne of wheat, that global food use relates to flour production of 7,272,370,000 cwts. That was up 6% from the estimate for the start of the 21st century.

It also was not unexpected that the sharpest increase for the entire decade, at 114%, was registered by wheat flour mills in Kazakhstan, the member nation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that has emerged in the last half of the decade as the world’s leading flour exporter. That the second largest increase, of 58.4%, was achieved by mills in Cuba, according to the IGC data, came as a surprise due to the lack of economic information from that island nation.

Specifically, the IGC placed combined output in the United States, Canada and Mexico, the three major flour milling nations of North America, at 24,118,000 tonnes, equal to 540 million cwts. That total, which was a new record high for the three, was barely above the 24,019,000 tonnes produced by the same three countries in 2000.

Standing out for increasing output among the three was Mexico, with 2009 output of 2,999,000 tonnes, up 20% from the output at the start of the 21st century. In contrast, U.S. mills in 2009 turned out 18,809,000 tonnes, down 1.6% from the decade’s beginning. Output of flour in Canada totaled 2,310,000 tonnes, down 2.7% from 2000.

Much the same situation prevailed in the European Union where total output showed little change. Germany, the largest flour miller in the E.U., turned out 5,381,000 tonnes, up 5.5% from the decade’s start, when it produced 5.1 million tonnes.

As late as 1999, France was producing slightly more flour than Germany. But in 2009, French output amounted to 4,537,000 tonnes, down 5.5% from the 2000 production. French flour output peaked in 1993 at 5,732,000 tonnes.

Italy, which as recently as 2003 produced more flour than France, turned out 3,850,000 tonnes in 2009, contrasted with 4,680,000 in 2000.

Spain, the other major producer on the continent, turned out 2.7 million tonnes in 2009, up 1% from the decade’s beginning.

The top performer among the principal European milling industries was in the United Kingdom, which registered a flour output increase of 8.4% in the first nine years of the new century. U.K. mills in 2009 produced 4,861,000 tonnes of wheat flour, which was a new record for a single year, compared with 4,486,000 in 2000.

These five major flour producers in the E.U. turned out a total of 18,629,000 tonnes in 2009, off 2.3% from 19,066,000 in 2000. This five-nation total was nearly the same as produced by U.S. mills.

The largest European increase for the first nine years of the 21st century was 51.9% in Poland, where output reached 3.1 million tonnes. Hungary fell nearly 9% in the same period, producing 980,000 tonnes in the last year for which data have been compiled by the IGC.

Output in Belgium fell 9.1% in the nine years, to 1,185,000 tonnes, while output by the Netherlands plummeted 41% to 1 million tonnes, the IGC said.

As a result of its rising export business, flour output by Kazakhstan mills in 2009 reached 3,725,000 tonnes, compared with 1,741,000 in 2000. Russia, the largest flour producer among the CIS, showed a reduction of 9.1% in the nine years, its output in2009 down to 9,358,000 tonnes. At the height of the Former Soviet Union, Russian mills produced more than 20 million (as much as 23,292,000) tonnes a year in the early to mid-1980s.

According to the IGC data, Cuba produced 453,000 tonnes of wheat flour in 2009, against just 286,000 in 2000.

All the major flour producing nations of South America posted an increase between 2000 and 2009. Brazil, the leader, turned out 7,013,000 tonnes of flour, up 3.3% from the start of the decade. Argentina, which has been exporting sizable quantities of flour to Brazil, saw its output reach 4,537,000 tonnes, up a third from the decade’s start. Chile, producing 1,302,000 tonnes in 2009, and Peru at 1,063,000 both showed increases of 15% for the period since 2000.

Only limited statistics were available on flour production in other parts of the world. The latest figure for China, the world’s largest flour miller, was for 2008 with an output of 79,371,000 tonnes, up 18.5% from the 2000 benchmark. For India, the only statistics cover that country’s commercial milling industry, which uses far less wheat than the local and home grinding of wheat into the type of flour favored in that nation. India’s commercial production in 2009 totaled 2,341,000 tonnes, down 4.2% from the 2000 aggregate.

Flour output in Japan, which historically has been almost unchanged from year-to-year for longer than a decade, reached 4,559,000 tonnes in 2009, almost identical to 2000.

South Korea produced 1,808,000 tonnes, down 3.4% from the decade’s start.

Taiwan produced 794,000 tonnes in 2009, up 1% from 2000.

Indonesia, which opened its first flour mill in the early 1970s, produced 3,325,000 tonnes, up 30.8% from 2000.

When it comes to Africa, the largest flour milling country with data available was Egypt, which also was a major importer not many decades ago. In 2009, Egyptian mills turned out 5,624,000 tonnes of flour, against 5,380,000 in 2000, an increase of 4.5%.

South Africa produced 2,260,000 tonnes, up 23.5% from the 2000 total.

The IGC did not report 2009 output for Australia. That country produced 2,252,000 tonnes in 2008, which was up 10.9% from the decade’s beginning.