Quarterly flour output down 0.8% from a year ago

by Neil Sosland
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WASHINGTON — U.S. flour production in the third quarter of 2008 totaled 108,155,000 cwts, down 0.8% from 109,017,000 in the same 2007 quarter, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of the Census. Probably dimming the prospect for record 2008 flour production, the total was only the fifth largest for a quarter; July-September 2007 output had been the second largest, topped only by the fourth quarter of 2000 when production reached a record 109,673,000.

July-September 2008 was the second successive quarter in which output lagged a year earlier. These two decreases followed a record-breaking 11 successive quarters when output exceeded a year earlier. The July-September output gained 6.2% from 101,887,000 in April-June.

The Census Bureau estimated 24-hour capacity of U.S. mills in July-September at 1,542,000 cwts, down from 1,548,000 in the second quarter but up from 1,535,000 a year ago. Mills in the quarter operated at 91.1% of six-day capacity, down from 93.4% a year ago when grind was the highest since 94.3% in October-December 2000. Operating average was up sharply from 85.5% in April-June.

Flour output in the first nine months of 2008 aggregated 311,660,000 cwts, down 113,000, or less than 0.1%, from 311,773,000 in the same 2007 period. It was the second largest nine-month total on record, topped by the record in January-September 2007 of 311,773,000 but ahead of 2000 at 311,597,000. January-September 1999 output totaled 303,755,000 and the three quarters in 2006 were at 300,931,000. These five years are the only ones in which 300 million cwts was topped by the end of September.

Durum semolina output in the third quarter was 7,472,000 cwts, down 11.2% from 8,418,000 a year earlier. It was the smallest quarter since April-June 2005 when it was 7,255,000. Semolina production in January-September totaled 22,977,000, down 6.6% from 24,602,000 in 2007.

As a consequence of the sharp semolina decrease, flour-ex-semolina in the nine months of January-September aggregated a record 288,683,000 cwts, topping 287,171,000 a year ago by 0.5% and the previous record of 287,592,000 in 2000 by 0.4%. However, the July-September flour-ex-semolina quarter by itself was not a record and only the fourth largest quarter in this category.

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