WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Whole wheat flour production by U.S. mills in 2019 was 21.007 million cwts, down 1.336 million cwts, or 6%, from 22.343 million cwts in 2018, according to data issued Feb. 1 by the National Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Production for the year was the smallest since NASS began tracking data in the mid-2010s and also was smaller than production  during the period the North American Millers’ Association gathered and published whole wheat data and much of the period before that when Milling & Baking News, a sister publication of World Grain, published whole wheat production data based on a survey of flour millers.

At 21.007 million cwts, whole wheat flour production last year compared with 22.519 million cwts in 2017, 22.164 million cwts in 2016 and record production of 24.115 million cwts in 2015.

Whole wheat production accounted for 5% of total U.S. wheat flour production, down from 5.2% in 2018 and 5.3% in 2017. It was the smallest share since 5% in 2014.

A bright spot in the NASS data was a powerful rebound in whole wheat flour production in the fourth quarter of 2019. At 5.957 million cwts, whole wheat flour production in October-December was up 426,000 cwts, or 8%, from 5.531 million cwts in the fourth quarter of 2018. Production was up a whopping 21% from the third quarter of 2019, when whole wheat flour outturn totaled 4.924 million cwts.

By a number of measures, fourth-quarter whole wheat production was remarkably strong. At 5.957 million cwts, production was the largest for any quarter in more than three years, since 6.053 million cwts were milled in the third quarter of 2016. The jump of 426,000 cwts from a year earlier was the largest quarterly year-to-year gain in four years, or since a 705,000-cwt jump in the fourth quarter of 2015, and the gain ended a four quarter streak of declines, relative to year earlier production.

Whole wheat flour production equated to 5.5% of fourth-quarter flour production, the largest share since the first quarter of 2017. But for the strong October-December figures, the whole wheat flour share for all of 2019 would have fallen below 5% for the first time since the mid-2000s.

Whole wheat semolina production in 2019 totaled 644,000 cwts, up 40,000 cwts, or 7%, from 604,000 cwts in 2018.  In the fourth quarter, whole wheat semolina production was 160,000 cwts, unchanged from the fourth quarter of 2018 and down 20% from 200,000 cwts in the third quarter. Whole wheat semolina production equated to 1.9% of all U.S. semolina production, the same share as a year earlier but down from 2.7% in the third quarter of 2019.

Whole wheat flour production in 2019, excluding semolina, was 20.363 million cwts, down 6% from 21.739 million cwts in 2018. Before 2019, whole wheat flour production ex-semolina production had been remarkably stable for a number of years, including 21.912 million cwts in 2017 and 21.428 million in 2016. Production was higher, 23.262 million cwts, in 2015.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, whole wheat flour production excluding semolina was 5.797 million cwts, up 426,000 cwts, or 8%, from 5.371 million cwts in the final quarter of 2018. Production in the fourth quarter was up 23% from 4.724 million cwts in the third quarter of 2019.

The ex-semolina whole wheat flour figure was the largest for a single quarter since 5.872 million cwts in the third quarter of 2016.