In what has been a trying year for grain-based foods, recent industry news generally has been highly positive. Financial results announced by companies ranging from Bunge Ltd. to Bimbo Bakeries USA have been strong. Additionally, US flour production rebounded briskly in the third quarter following a dip in the second. Amid the ups and downs, year-to-date flour production through September was 318.4 million cwts, up 1.3% from the depressed level of production in the first nine months of 2019 and just slightly below the 2018 record of 319.2 million cwts in 2018.

While the results help demonstrate the industry’s resilience amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the outlook is growing more uncertain. In the final presidential debate at the end of October, President Trump said the United States was “rounding the corner” in the outbreak. His position was buttressed last week by highly positive news about the preliminary success of a vaccine under development by Pfizer Inc., but he has been silent more recently about the alarming spike in newly diagnosed cases and deaths.

Because the disease is so widespread across the United States, millers and bakers are facing rapidly escalating challenges in their efforts to keep operations running. For instance, the caseload surge has raised concerns once again about the adequacy of personal protective equipment. The vaccine news represented hope that the end of this crisis is in sight. The seemingly out-of-control spread of the coronavirus points to extreme difficulty along the road to the finish line.