Despite softness in the fourth quarter, wheat flour production by US flour mills in 2022 reached an all-time high and posted the widest year-to-year gain in 15 years, according to data published Feb. 1 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the US Department of Agriculture.  

Flour production in 2022 totaled 430,284,000 cwts, up 9,108,000 cwts, or 2.2%, from 421,176,000 in 2021 and up 1.1% from 425,797,000 in 2020. The record production represented a solid rebound from 2021, when flour production fell to the lowest level since 420,365,000 cwts in 2012. The 9.1-million-cwt increase was the largest since flour production jumped 15,445,000 cwts in 2007.

Production in 2022 was up 3,413,000 cwts, or 0.8%, from the previous record of 426,871,000 cwts in 2018.   

In the fourth quarter of 2022, flour output totaled 106,547,000 cwts, down 3,312,000 cwts, or 3%, from 109,859,000 cwts in the third quarter and down 1,513,000 cwts, or 1.4%, from 108,060,000 cwts in October-December 2021. It was the smallest fourth-quarter aggregate in a decade, or since 106,213,000 cwts of flour were milled in the fourth quarter of 2012.

The 24-hour capacity of US flour mills for the fourth quarter was estimated at 1,584,686 cwts, down 11,144 cwts from the third quarter and up 1,856 cwts from 1,582,830 a year ago. The record high for daily milling capacity was 1,674,210 cwts in July-September 2019.

Based on the NASS data, mills operated at an average of 88.4% of six-day capacity in 2022, up from 86.7% in the prior year.  Calculating utilization rates based on fourth-quarter capacity, 2022 grind was 88.4%, up from 86.7% in 2021. In the fourth quarter, mills operated at 87.3% of capacity, down from 89.4% in the third quarter and down from 88.7% a year ago.

Wheat grind in 2022 totaled 928,615,000 bus, up 1.7% from 913,380,000 in 2021. The high was 944,868,000 bus in 2000. Millfeed production in 2022 aggregated 6,731,971 tons, up 1.4% from 6,639,123 in 2021. The record was 7,374,115 in 2000.

NASS statistics have been published for 34 quarters and eight consecutive years (2015-2022).  While 2015-2022 data were compiled by NASS, only the third and fourth quarters of 2014 came from NASS. January-June data of that year originated from a 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 2022 semolina output at 30,629,000 cwts, up 1.5% from 30,180,000 cwts in 2021.The record was 33,802,000 in 2020.