WASHINGTON—Wheat flour production by US flour mills in 2021 fell to a nine-year low of 421,176,000 cwts, down 4,621,000 cwts, or 1.1%, from 425,797,000 cwts in 2020, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the US Department of Agriculture. In any event, it was the smallest NASS aggregate to date.

Production in 2021 was down 5,695,000 cwts, or 1.3%, from the record 426,871,000 in 2018 and was the smallest estimated production since 420,365,000 in 2012.  

In the fourth quarter of 2021, flour output totaled 108,060,000 cwts, up 1,899,000 cwts, or 1.8%, from 106,161,000 in the third quarter and gaining 1,073,000 cwts, or 1%, from 106,987,000 cwts in October-December 2020.

The 24-hour capacity of US flour mills for the fourth quarter was estimated at 1,585,762 cwts, unchanged from the third quarter and up from 1,585,310 cwts a year ago. The all-time high for flour milling capacity was 1,674,210 cwts in July-September 2019.

Based on the NASS data, mills operated at an average of 86.7% of six-day average capacity in 2021, up from 85.8% in the prior year.  Calculating utilization rates based on fourth-quarter capacity, 2021 grind was 86.5%, down from 87.2% in 2020. In the fourth quarter, mills operated at 88.5% of capacity, up from 86.9% in the third quarter and 87.6% a year ago.

Wheat grind in 2021 totaled 913,380,000 bus, down from 917,978,000 in 2020. The record high was 944,868,000 bus in 2000. Millfeed production in 2021 aggregated 6,639,119 tons, down from 6,547,304 in 2020. The record was 7,374,115 tons in 2000.

NASS statistics have been published for 30 quarters and seven consecutive years (2015-21). While 2015-21 data were compiled by NASS, only the third and fourth quarters of 2014 came from NASS. January-June data of that year were generated by Veris on behalf of the North American Millers’ Association (NAMA) panel of the largest US mills and were subsequently interpolated by Milling & Baking News to make the data comparable with earlier statistics compiled by the US Census Bureau.

NASS also estimated 2021 semolina output at 30,180,000 cwts, down 3,622,000, or 10.7%, from a record 33,802,000 in 2020. Semolina production in 2019 was 31,532,000 in 2019.  Semolina production was the smallest since 26,271,000 cwts in 2014.