WASHINGTON, DC, US — Whole wheat flour production in the first quarter of 2020 was 5.904 million cwts, up 406,000 cwts, or 7%, from 5.498 million cwts in the first quarter of 2019, according to data issued May 1 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the US Department of Agriculture. Additionally, the USDA revised upward its estimate for 2019 whole wheat flour production.
At 5.904 million cwts, production was the largest for the first quarter in five years, or since 6.122 million cwts in January-March 2015. Production in January-March 2020 was down 53,000 cwts, or 0.9%, from 5.957 million cwts in the final quarter of 2019.
Whole wheat flour production equated to 5.5% of total US flour production in the first quarter, up from 5.3% in the first quarter last year and the same as in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Production of whole wheat semolina was 171,000 in January-March, up 21,000 cwts, or 14%, from 150,000 during the same period last year. Production was up 7% from 160,000 cwts in the fourth quarter of last year.
Whole wheat semolina accounted for 2.1% of total semolina production, up from 1.9% in the year-earlier quarter and the fourth quarter of 2019.
Whole wheat flour production ex-semolina was 5.733 million cwts, up 385,000 cwts, or 7%, from 5.348 million cwts in the first quarter of 2019. Production was down 1.1% from 5.797 million cwts in the fourth quarter of last year.
Whole wheat ex-semolina flour production 5.8% of total flour production ex-semolina, up from 5.6% in the first quarter of 2019 but the same as in the fourth quarter.
In the 2019 annual summary of Flour Milling Products published by NASS, whole wheat production last year was revised upward to 22.239 million cwts, up 1.232 million cwts, or 5.9%, from the preliminary estimate of 21.007 million cwts. With the revision, whole wheat flour production last year was nearly unchanged, down 104,000 cwts, or 0.5%, from 2018 production of 22.343 million cwts.
Accounting for the upward revision were changes recorded by the USDA in two 2019 quarters — January-March and July-September. At 5.498 million cwts, first-quarter whole wheat production was revised upward by 643,000 cwts, or 13%, from the preliminary figure of 4.855 million cwts. The revised figure is down 213,000 cwts, or 3.7%, from 5.711 million cwts in the first quarter of 2018 (versus an initially reported drop of 15%).
The revised figure for third-quarter whole wheat flour production of 5.513 million cwts was up 12% from the preliminary estimate of 4.924 million cwts. The revised estimate of 5.513 million cwts was still down 3.5% from 5.715 million cwts in the third quarter of 2018 and was smaller than 5.632 million cwts produced in July-September 2017. Still the decline from 2018 was modest relative to the 14% drop indicated in the preliminary estimate.
Even at a time whole wheat flour production has been declining, the preliminary figures for both the first and third quarters were outliers — the two were the smallest whole wheat flour production figures for any quarter since NASS began issuing estimates in 2014.