WASHINGTON — Wheat flour production in 2011 is estimated at 411,745,000 cwts, down 1.4% from 417,396,000 in 2010 and the smallest output since 403,391,000 cwts five years ago in 2006. The current year production is estimated by Milling & Baking News from preliminary Census numbers for the first half of 2011 along with this magazine’s interpolation of North American Millers’ Association data on production in July-December.

Effective with the third-quarter data for 2011, the Census Bureau discontinued its quarterly reports on U.S. flour production and NAMA began compiling data from a pool of reporting mills. NAMA placed fourth-quarter flour production at 101,122,000 cwts and 24-hour capacity at 1,472,000. Again explaining its methodology, the association said:

“NAMA has retained Veris Consulting, Inc. to survey the 24 largest U.S. wheat, durum and rye milling companies on their flour production in the fourth quarter of 2011 (October, November, December). Data published in this report are based on data voluntarily reported to Veris.

“The capacity share of these companies is given as 95.4%. All companies responded to the survey. Therefore, total industry volume presented is less than 100% and the numbers provided will not accurately show total industry volume. No estimates were made to bring the volume up to 100%.

“The Census Department did not disclose the name or number of respondents to their surveys. They did note in footnotes accompanying past reports that some numbers have been estimated. Therefore, data published in this report may not be comparable to historical reports.

“After additional legal review, NAMA decided to change reporting categories in this quarter and publish this report in a manner that more closely resembles the flour production reports issued by the Census Bureau.”

These categories (state numbers) and comparisons where available will be presented in a forthcoming article.

Milling & Baking News made the decision to interpolate NAMA’s number by dividing it by .954 and then combining it with NAMA third-quarter derived figures and the earlier Census numbers. The Census Bureau halted its flour compilations after the second quarter because of budgetary issues.

Applying the same method to NAMA's capacity total, Milling & Baking News estimated capacity for the 4th quarter at 1,543,000 cwts, down slightly from 1,544,000 a year back, which was Census data. Based on this estimate, U.S. mills in the fourth quarter of 2011 operated at 89.2% of six-day capacity, down from 90.1% in the third quarter but up from 88.1% a year ago. The annual quarterly rate of grind average for all of 2011 was 87.4%, almost the same as 88% in the previous year.