WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Wheat flour production by U.S. flour mills in 2017 totaled a record 426.396 million cwts, up 2.693 million cwts, or 0.6%, from 423.7 million cwts in 2016, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The 24-hour capacity of U.S. flour mills for the fourth quarter was estimated at 1.62 million cwts, unchanged from the third quarter and a year ago and just under the record 1.621 million cwts in April-June 2015.

Based on the NASS data, mills operated at an average of 86.1% of six-day capacity in 2017, up from 85.1% in the prior year.  It was the largest since 87.4% in 2014. Utilizing the more conventional calculation based on the fourth quarter, 2017 grind was 88.4%, up from 86.7% in 2016 and the highest since 92.3% in 2013.

NASS statistics have been published for 14 consecutive quarters and three consecutive years (2015-17). While 2015-17 data were compiled by NASS, only the third and fourth quarters came from NASS in 2014. January-June data originated from a North American Millers’ Association (NAMA) panel of the largest U.S. mills and was subsequently interpolated by Milling & Baking News to make the data comparable with earlier statistics compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

NASS also estimated 2017 semolina output at 31.799 million cwts, up 1.5% over 31.338 million in 2016. Production fell well short of 32.93 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. Consequently, flour production ex semolina in 2017 was estimated at a record 394.597 million cwts, up 0.6% from 392.365 million in 2016.

According to NASS, October-December flour output totaled 108.831 million cwts, up 0.4% from 108.392 million in the third quarter and 0.7% above 108.08 million a year ago. Mills operated at 88.4% of capacity in the fourth quarter, up from 86.9% in the third quarter and 86.7% a year ago.