Global flour data paints picture

by World Grain Staff
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The temptation is great to describe this year’s compilation of data on international wheat flour production by the International Grains Council (IGC) as affirming once again that milling, regardless of location, is well defined by small, even tiny, changes. Since anyone the least bit familiar with flour milling operations would scoff at such a conclusion that differs greatly from how individual milling executives regard their businesses, the need arises to explain what makes for these two contrary impressions. It does not require intense inquiry to understand such varied assessments. This thinking is propelled by how national production numbers are inaccurate in describing how individual companies and plants are running. Yes, it is important to know how much flour is being produced nationally or within smaller geographic divisions. But it is misleading to link volumes of individual companies or plants to geographic data.

Without citing the data for individual plants or companies, the differences at work here are underscored by statistics covering the U.S. milling industry. For the 2015 calendar year, U.S. production of wheat flour approached being the same as in 2014. Yet, only a relatively few states turned out the same quantity of flour in both years, varying from a 5% increase in California to a 6% reduction in Missouri. These are not the largest shifts among states, but this range illustrates how unwise it is to relate national figures to specific entities.

Thus, when the IGC places German flour production in 2013, the last year for which it has compiled data, at 6,404,000 tonnes, and that is up 14% from 2012, the actual experience of individual milling companies may only be imagined. Also, even though production by French and U.K. milling industries showed no change from the prior year, at 4,445,000 and 4,100,000 tonnes, respectively, it is probable that milling companies and single plants within each had totally different experiences in 2013.

Even while ruling out the applicability of national operating results to single plants or groups, some of the national statistics provide guidance to understanding what may be transpiring in such a dynamic business. Nowhere is the rising role of wheat flour foods more apparent than in output data for Indonesia. Its wheat flour output increased 10% in 2013 to a new peak of 5,150,000 tonnes, maintaining its record as one of the few nations in the world to post double-digit percentage gains. From 2004, Indonesian output in 2013 scored a 72% climb, making it the fastest growing flour market in the world.

Regardless of how valuable the IGC data on national flour production may be, its utility for gaining a complete picture is lessened by those countries that do not cooperate in providing flour reports. Nations like Egypt, Nigeria, Australia and Italy are among the non-reporters, in part for just one or two years and in others for a long time. Of huge importance but also omitted from the flour statistics are China and India, the two largest consumers of wheat-based foods as measured by their populations. It is shameful that milling data are missing for all of these countries that would greatly enhance the value of what we now know. Largely because of missing flour numbers, students of this important part of the world food economy must rely on IGC estimates of wheat food use. For the 2013-14 crop year, the Council estimated consumption for food at 472,600,000 tonnes, up 2% from 2012-13 and 11% above the beginning of the 21st century. Once again the same caution applied to national and global flour numbers belong with these statistics meant to provide background information for analyzing how flour milling is dealing with regional and national economies that are undergoing dramatic changes. Thanks to the IGC, data are at hand strongly affirming that the global milling industry is doing well regardless of harrowing changes under way.