Flour output rising in developing nations

by Morton Sosland
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Thanks to the International Grains Council (IGC) for gathering data on flour production in many leading producing nations around the world, a picture emerges of developed nations registering little or no change in flour output in contrast with the developing nations where significant gains have been recorded, especially in those countries also capturing a significant volume of flour export trade. While the milling output trends revealed by the latest data from the IGC covering production through the 2011 calendar year are quite revealing, the Council also was unable to assemble output data from significant flour producers like China, the world’s largest, Nigeria and Egypt, as well as Australia and Italy that haven’t provided information to the Council.

As comprehensive as the IGC statistics on flour production may be, aggregating the figures fell far short of indicating global production of wheat flour. For instance, the IGC separately forecast global food use of wheat in 2013-14 at 471.3 million tonnes. Based on a 75% flour extraction average, this would equal nearly 350 million tonnes or well in excess of 5 billion cwts of flour. At its most extensive coverage of flour production, in 2008, the output provided by the IGC approached 4 billion cwts.

Based on the crop year estimates by the IGC of food use of wheat, worldwide flour production has been on a definite upward course. The food use of 471.1 million tonnes forecast for the current season compared with 465.7 million in the prior year and 460.7 million in 2011-12. This would indicate annual gains of about 1%, a little behind the rate of world population increase.

The last year in which the IGC had an estimate for flour production in China was 2008, when the country’s output was placed at 79,371,000 tonnes of wheat flour. In that same year, the U.S., which ranks second to China in commercial flour production, turned out 18,883,000 tonnes of flour, or 422 million cwts. In 2011, the latest full year reported by the IGC, U.S. production actually decreased to 18,235,000 tonnes or 408 million cwts.

Using the IGC’s data points to 2011-12 food use of wheat in China at 85 million tonnes followed fairly closely by India at 73.1 million tonnes. The IGC did not present an estimate of India flour production for 2011. In 2010, its flour output was placed at 2,550,000 tonnes, which represented output of only commercial mills, whereas most of the wheat product ground in India comes from primitive single-person mills operating in small villages and on street corners grinding a whole wheat product known as atta. India’s commercial mill output of flour has been on a rising trend.

The three major North American flour producers — the United States. Canada and Mexico — comprising the North American Free Trade Agreement have been producing nearly 24 million tonnes of flour year after year. The total for 2011 was 23,679,000 tonnes, little changed from 24,040,000 in 2007. Mexico’s output for the four years gained, while Canada and the United States held barely steady or decreased slightly.

The steady course of North American output was closely paralleled in Western Europe, even though some country changes were quite large. Germany, Europe’s leading flour miller, turned out 6,387,000 tonnes in 2011, up 13.7% from the prior year and on top of a 4.4% gain 2010. Its 2011 output was up 21% from four years earlier. In contrast, U.K. flour output in 2011 fell 19% to 4.1 million tonnes. Output in the Netherlands dropped 15.3%. French mills turned out 4,492,000 tonnes of flour, up 2.7% from 2010 but slightly below the 2007 total.

Among developing nations with flour output gains, satellites of the Former Soviet Union stood out. In 2011, Poland’s mills produced 3.7 million tonnes of wheat flour, up 23% from the previous year. Romania output was 1,610,000 tonnes, an increase of 19.3% from 2010. The Czech Republic scored a gain of 22.6%. Russia itself posted an 11.6% increase in 2011, to 10 million tonnes, but this sizable increase was outdone by Ukraine, turning out 2,587,000 tonnes, up 23% from 2010, and Belarus, up 20% to 764,000. Hungary’s decrease of 7% was among the few reductions in Eastern European production. Kazakhstan, which ranks among leading flour exporters, scored another output rise in 2011, to reach 3,846,000 tonnes, or 86 million cwts, up 2.5% from 2010.

Among the largest flour milling nations, one of the sharpest increases occurred in Turkey, with 2011 output of 7,815,000 tonnes, up 10% from 2010. That followed a 25% increase in the prior year. Turkey, which has captured an expanding volume of exports, has seen a dramatic expansion in output since 2007 when its production was 5,051,000 tonnes.

Flour output in Asia for the most part showed relatively small changes. Japan, turning out 4,899,000 tonnes in 2011, gained 1.8% over 2010, with the latter up 5.5% from 2010. An exception was Indonesia, where mills turned out 4,041,000 tonnes, a new record and an increase of 11.4% over 2010.

Brazil leads in flour output in South America, where it also has a major role as an importer to meet its internal requirements. Output in Brazil in 2011 reached 7,957,000 tonnes, up 4.6% from the preceding year and 12% above the 2007 total of 7,081,000. Argentina produced 4,791,000 tonnes of flour in 2011, up 1% from the prior year and compared with 4,311,000 four years earlier. Peru turned out 1,251,000 tonnes, up 14.7% from 2010.

The IGC reported flour output in 2011 in only two African nations, South Africa at 2,454,000 tonnes and the Sudan at 1,410,000. Both nations showed consistent small annual increases. Egypt and Nigeria are among the world’s leading flour producers, but no data are shown on either’s output in recent years.