WASHINGTON, DC, US — Impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic seemed evident in data contained in two reports issued by the US Department of Agriculture on May 1.

The USDA’s quarterly Flour Milling Products report covering January-March 2020 included results from March, when the pandemic began to spread rapidly across the United States driving consumers to stockpile wheat products like bread and family flour before sheltering at home. And the USDA’s monthly Grain Crushings and Co-Products report for March pointed to a decline in corn consumption for fuel alcohol production, as was expected with ethanol production slumping and several ethanol plants having been closed.

The USDA estimated that all-wheat ground for flour in January-March 2020 at 232.164 million bushels, nearly on par with the 232.428 million bushels of wheat ground in the fourth quarter of 2019 and up 8.814 million bushels, or 4%, from 223.35 million bushels in the first quarter of 2019. The recent five-year average first-quarter wheat grind was 225 million bushels.

The USDA estimated first-quarter 2020 flour production at 107.272 million cwts, down only 648,000 cwts, or about 1%, from 107.92 million cwts in October-December 2019 but up 3.672 million cwts, or 4%, from 103.6 million cwts in January-March 2019. The recent five-year average first-quarter flour production was 104.2 million cwts.

All-wheat grind and flour production during the first quarter of a calendar year is expected to be lower than in the preceding October-December, the quarter encompassing the all-important fall baking season. In the past five years, first-quarter wheat grind has been 3% to 5% below that of the preceding fourth quarter, and first-quarter flour production has been 3% to 4% lower than in the preceding fourth quarter.

In its monthly Grain Crushings and Co-Products Production report, the USDA estimated corn consumed in the production of fuel alcohol in March totaled 411.774 million bushels, down 20.975 million bushels, or 5%, from February and down 30.186 million bushels, or 7%, from 441.96 million bushels in March 2019.

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