WASHINGTON — Decelerating in the wake of a promising start that included new records as late as the third quarter, U.S. flour production in 2008 ended with a small decrease from 2007. It still managed to be the third largest output on record.

Extraction for the year, at 76.5%, was the highest of at least several decades. According to preliminary estimates issued Feb. 13 by the Bureau of the Census of the U.S. Department of Commerce, 2008 wheat flour output was 416,284,000 cwts, down 2,552,000, or 0.6%, from 418,836,000 in 2007, the second largest. The all-time high was 421,270,000 cwts in 2000.

Rate of grind in 2008 averaged 87.9% of six-day capacity, down from 89.1% in the prior year. Industry 24-hour capacity at yearend was a near-record 1,539,000 cwts, up 7,000 from 1,532,000 a year earlier.

Extraction rate in 2008 averaged 76.5%, up from 75.6% in 2007. Fourth-quarter flour output totaled 104,501,000 cwts, down 2.4% from 107,063,000 cwts in the fourth quarter of 2007. Semolina production in 2008 aggregated 30,921,000 cwts, down 5.7% from 32,804,000 in 2007. It was 31,948,000 in 2006.

Among states and state-groupings in 2008, Kansas again topped the list but only by a small margin. Kansas output ranked third in the fourth quarter, falling behind both Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin combined as well as California.