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 decrease in 2019 flour production, the second largest year-to-year drop in the last 15 years, reflected a persistent downward trend in quarterly production totals dating to the middle of 2018 and ending only with a minuscule rebound in the final three months (October-December 2019).

At 4,594,000 cwts, the decline from 2018 represented the widest year-to-year change in seven years, or since a jump of 8,620,000 cwts in 2012. For longer than a decade, flour production has been unusually flat. Since 2004, the average (absolute value) change has been 3,874,000 cwts. Between 1985 and 2003, the average year-to-year change was more than twice as large, at 8,691,000 cwts.

Twelve-month flour production reached a record in the period ended April-June 2018, at 428,142,000 cwts. The 2019 production total of 422,277,000 was down 5,865,000 cwts from this peak figure. Production in the 12 months ended July-September 2019 was even lower, at 422,075,000 cwts.

To date, flour production in 18 years has topped 400 million cwts. The first was in 1997 at 404,143,000 cwts. The last year in which output fell below that figure was 2005, at 394,973,000 cwts.

NASS beginning with July-September 2014 began (22 quarters) collecting flour milling data that for decades had been gathered and published by the Bureau of the Census of the Department of Commerce. When the Census Bureau stopped after the April-June 2011 quarter, the North American Millers’ Association commissioned Veris Consulting to gather flour milling data from the industry’s largest companies. The figures were extrapolated by Milling & Baking News to estimate total U.S. flour production in a way that was comparable to Census figures. The arrangement continued through 2014, and NASS data for July-December 2014 overlapped NAMA numbers. The NASS figures for the second half of 2014 proved to be reasonably close to the extrapolated NAMA figures. Nevertheless, data gathered during the NAMA period are not strictly comparable to the NASS figures.

The 24-hour capacity of U.S. flour mills for the fourth quarter was estimated at 1,649,750 cwts, down 24,460 cwts from the record 1,674,210 in the third quarter but up 7,419 cwts 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 capacity utilization in decades, dating back at least until 1984. Calculating utilization rates based on fourth-quarter capacity, 2019 grind was 83.4%, down from 84.7% in 2018, also a recent low.

The percentages reflect 307 working days in 2019 and 2018, in modest contrast to 306 working days in 2017 (a year that began and ended on Sunday), 308 in 2016 (leap year) and 307 in 2015. Mill operating rate was 90.3% in 2000, the last time it exceeded 90%. The annual figures were calculated using average quarterly available operating rates.

Based on the more conventional annual operating rate calculation using fourth-quarter capacity alone, 2019 grind was 83.4%, down from 84.7% in 2018. This was the lowest rate based on the fourth-quarter figure in recent years (at least since 1985).

Wheat grind in 2019 totaled 912,609,000 bus, down 0.6% from 918,373,000 in 2018. The all-time high was 944,868,000 bus in 2000.

Rate of extraction in 2019 averaged 77.1%, down from 77.5% in 2018 and 2017, 77.2% in 2016 and 76.7% in 2015.

Consistent with the lower extraction rate, millfeed production in 2019 was up from the year before. It 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 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 the record 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.

Durum grind in 2019 aggregated 66,450,000 bus, down 0.9% from 67,086,000 in 2018. It was 66,374,000 bus in 2017 and 66,745,000 in 2016.

Semolina mill capacity in the fourth quarter totaled 131,330 cwts, unchanged from the third quarter and against 123,330 a year back. Grind was 78.2%, compared with 84.4% a year ago.

Flour production ex-semolina in 2019 was estimated at 390,745,000 cwts, down 1.1% from a record 394,920,000 in 2018. Non-durum wheat grind totaled 846,159,000 bus, down 0.6% from 851,287,000 in 2018. Capacity was 1,518,420 cwts, down from 1,527,001 a year ago. Grind for 2019 was 83.8%, against 84.2% in 2018.

Rye flour output in 2019 aggregated 846,000 cwts, down 3.9% from 880,000 in 2018. It was 883,000 in 2017. It was 1,041,000 in 2016 and 1,008,000 in 2015. Rye grind was 1,759,000 bus, down 3.7% from 1,827,000. It was 1,801,000 in 2017, 2,149,000 in 2016 and 2,133,000 in 2015. Capacity totaled 9,785 cwt, unchanged.

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. Record production in the fourth quarter was 110,332,000 cwts in 2013.

Mills in the fourth quarter operated at 85%, up from 82.9% in the third but down slightly from 85.2% a year ago.

The 24-hour capacity of U.S. flour mills for the fourth quarter of 2019 was placed at 1,649,750 cwts, down from the record 1,674,210 in the third quarter and 1,642,331 a year ago.

According to NASS, wheat grind by U.S. mills in October-December totaled 232,428,000 bus, up 0.3% from 231,661,000 bus in the fourth quarter of 2018. It was also up 0.3% from 231,775,000 in the third quarter. The record was 247,738,000 in the fourth quarter of 2000.

Extraction in the fourth quarter was 77.4%, up from 76.8% in the third quarter but down from 77.5% a year ago.

Millfeed production in the fourth quarter totaled 1,624,974 tons, down 0.2% from 1,628,348 a year back. It was down 2.1% from 1,659,494 tons in July-September. The record was 1,947,407 tons in October-December 2000.

Semolina output in the fourth quarter aggregated 8,504,000 cwts, down 2.5% from 8,300,000 a year ago. It was up 13.4% over 7,501,000 in the third quarter. Durum grind in October-December totaled 18,035,000 bus, against 17,538,000 a year ago, up 2.8%. It moved up 13.2% over 15,928,000 bus in the third quarter.

Rye production in October-December totaled 214,000 cwts, which was up 1.9% from 210,000 in October-December 2018. It was down 1.8% from 218,000 in the third quarter. Rye grind in the fourth quarter aggregated 456,000 bus, against 462,000 in the third quarter and 436,000 a year ago.

Among states and state groupings NASS showed Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin in first place in 2019 flour production, with output total of 43,146,000 cwts, up 1.6% from 42,459,000 cwts in 2018. Its fourth-quarter 24-hour capacity was 176,252 cwts, up 30,000 from the prior year. The regional operating rate averaged 79.7% of capacity in 2019, down from 94.6% in 2018.

California was the single state leader and ranked second, turning out 31,771,000 cwts, gaining 1.2% over 31,382,000 in 2018. Its daily capacity was 121,100 cwts, down 1,071, and grind rate was 85.5% against 83.7%.

In third place was Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington, which produced a total of 28,907,000 cwts, down 8.9% from 31,736,000 in the prior year, with capacity unchanged at 125,787 cwts and grind averaging 74.9% against 82.5% in 2018.

Kansas production was 27,580,000 cwts, against 28,122,000; capacity was 111,132 cwts, down 6,000; and grind was 80.8% against 78.2%.

Minnesota was fifth at 25,657,000 cwts, against 26,729,000. Its capacity, 111,460 cwts, was down 8,760, and rate of grind was 75%, against 72.4%.

Following next was New Jersey and New York at 25,582,000 cwts; North Dakota, 25,558,000; Missouri, 24,127,000; Texas, 23,757,000; Ohio, 23,235,000; and Pennsylvania, 22,831,000.

Florida, Georgia and South Carolina state grouping was at 16,941,000 cwts; Kentucky and Tennessee, 16,151,000; Iowa and Nebraska, 14,963,000; North Carolina, 14,779,000; Colorado and Oklahoma, 14,192,000; Maryland and Virginia, 12,236,000; and Michigan, 10,685,000.

All other states are Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine and Louisiana. The group milled 20,179,000 cwts in 2019, against 19,627,000 in 2018. Capacity was 69,807 cwts, unchanged, and grind was 94.2%, up from 91.6%.

NASS recorded significant changes in October-December 2019 milling capacity data.

U.S aggregate capacity in the fourth quarter totaled 1,649,750 cwts, up 7,419 cwts from 1,642,331 a year ago. However, the fourth quarter was down 24,460 from the third. All other states were unchanged.

Daily milling capacity in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin was up 30,000 cwts from a year ago; Missouri, up 8,000; and New Jersey and New York, up 1,200.

Capacity decreases from a year ago, all recorded in the fourth quarter, were led by Minnesota, down 8,760 cwts; Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, down 6,400; Kansas, down 6,000; Ohio, down 4,500; Maryland and Virginia, down 2,500 cwts; Pennsylvania, down 2,400; California, down 1,071; and Kentucky and Tennessee, down 150.

Revisions may yet be anticipated in the Summary to be released in April along with first quarter 2020 data.