WASHINGTON — Wheat flour production by U.S. flour mills in 2019 totaled 422,277,000 cwts, down 4,594,000 cwts, or 1.1%, from the record 426,871,000 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 4,122,000 cwts, or 1%, from 426,399,000 in 2017, the third largest year. Production of 422,277,000 cwts in 2019 ranked seventh in annual total production and was only slightly greater than 2000, which was eighth, at 421,270,000 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 912,609,000, down 0.6% from 918,373,000 in 2018. The high was 944,868,000 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 to make the data comparable with earlier statistics compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

NASS also estimated 2019 semolina output at 31,532,000 cwts, down 1.3% from 31,951,000 in 2018. It was 31,799,000 in 2017. Production fell well short of 32,930,000 cwts in 2011 as interpolated by Milling & Baking News but also was smaller than 32,747,000 cwts in 2010 and 32,804,000 in 2007 when the Census still issued annual data.

Flour production ex-semolina in 2019 was estimated at 390,745,000 cwts, down 1.1% from a record 394,920,000 in 2018.

According to NASS, October-December flour output totaled 107,920,000 cwts, up 1% from 106,828,000 in the third quarter and up 0.2% from 107,718,000 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.