WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Wheat flour production by U.S. flour mills in 2019 totaled 422.277 million cwts, down 4.594 million cwts, or 1.1%, from the record 426.871 million cwts in 2018 and the smallest aggregate in seven years, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Production in 2019 was down 4.122 million cwts, or 1%, from 426.399 million in 2017, the third largest year. Production of 422.277 million cwts in 2019 ranked seventh in annual total production and was only slightly greater than 2000, which was eighth, at 421.270 million cwts.

The 24-hour capacity of U.S. flour mills for the fourth quarter was estimated at 1,649,750 cwts, down from the record 1,674,210 in the third quarter but up from 1,642,331 a year ago.

Based on the NASS data, mills operated at an average of 83.2% of six-day capacity in 2019, down from 84.7% in the prior year. It was the lowest in recent years.  Calculating utilization rates based on fourth-quarter capacity, 2019 grind was 83.4%, down from 84.3% in 2018.

Wheat grind in 2019 totaled 912.609 million, down 0.6% from 918.373 million in 2018. The high was 944.868 million in 2000. Millfeed production in 2019 aggregated 6,485,291 tons, a gain of 0.4% over 6,458,017 in 2018. The record was 7,374,115 in 2000.

NASS statistics have been published for 22 consecutive quarters and five consecutive years (2015-19). While 2015-19 data were compiled by NASS, only the third and fourth quarters of 2014 came from NASS. January-June data of that year originated from a North American Millers’ Association panel of the largest U.S. mills and were subsequently interpolated by Milling & Baking News, a sister publication of World Grain, to make the data comparable with earlier statistics compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

NASS also estimated 2019 semolina output at 31.532 million cwts, down 1.3% from 31.951 million in 2018. It was 31.799 million in 2017. Production fell well short of 32.930 million cwts in 2011 as interpolated by Milling & Baking News but also was smaller than 32.747 million cwts in 2010 and 32.804 million in 2007 when the Census still issued annual data.

Flour production ex-semolina in 2019 was estimated at 390.745 million cwts, down 1.1% from a record 394.920 million in 2018.

According to NASS, October-December flour output totaled 107.920 million cwts, up 1% from 106.828 million in the third quarter and up 0.2% from 107.718 million a year ago. Mills operated at 85% of capacity in the fourth quarter, up from 82.9% in the third quarter but down slightly from 85.2% a year ago.