Flour production hits record high in 2016, barely

by Neil Sosland
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Flour production
Wheat flour production by U.S. flour mills in 2016 aggregated 425,406,000 cwts.

WASHINGTON — Wheat flour production by U.S. flour mills in 2016 aggregated 425,406,000 cwts, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Output last year, which includes durum semolina production, was up 506,000 cwts, or 0.1%, from 424,900,000 in 2015. The previous high was 424,950,000 cwts posted in 2014.

For three consecutive years, U.S. flour production has been locked in place, falling within a fiftieth of one per cent of 425,150,000 cwts.

NASS statistics are now available for 10 consecutive quarters, and this was the first time two entire calendar years were available for comparison.

While all of the 2016 and 2015 data were compiled by NASS, for 2014 only the third and fourth quarters came from NASS. January-June data originated from a North American Millers’ Association (NAMA) panel of the largest U.S. mills and subsequently interpolated by Milling & Baking News to make the data comparable with earlier statistics.

NASS estimated 2016  durum semolina output at 31,506,000 cwts, up 3.7% from 30,394,000 in 2015. This is well short of 32,930,000 in 2011 as interpolated by Milling & Baking News but also under 32,747,000 in 2010 and 32,804,000 in 2007 when the Census still issued annual data. Consequently, flour production ex semolina in 2016 was estimated at 393,807,000 cwts, down 0.2% from 394,506,000 in 2015, which was the largest total indicated so far. Because of the lack of statistical rigor in establishing semolina numbers between the end of Census compilations and the start of NASS, these comparisons should be addressed with caution.

The 24-hour capacity of U.S. flour mills for the fourth quarter of 2016 was placed at 1,620,000 cwts, unchanged from the third quarter and up 2,000 over a year ago. This was just under the record daily capacity of 1,621,000 cwts in April-June 2015

Based on available data, mills operated at an average of 85.4% of six-day capacity in 2016, down from 85.6% in the prior year. It was the lowest since 84.2% in 2001. Utilizing the more conventional numbers based on fourth quarter alone, 2016 average operations were at 85.5%, unchanged from 2015.

According to NASS, October-December flour output totaled 109,644,000 cwts, up 1.5% from the slightly revised 108,034,000 in the third quarter and 0.8% above 108,801,000 cwts a year ago. All of these numbers were compiled by NASS. U.S. mills operated at 87.9% of capacity in the fourth quarter, up from 86.6% in the third quarter and 87.3% a year ago. 
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