Buttery Crop Goes Pop
After riding high for a few years on a wave of butter-flavored prosperity, Indiana’s popcorn production dropped by more than a quarter last year.
In 2014, Hoosier farmers planted and harvested more popcorn than they ever had before, producing more than 430 million pounds of the stuff. But last year, they produced only 310 million pounds.
Greg Matli, a statistician for the US Department of Agriculture’s Indiana field office, says Indiana popcorn became a victim of its own bounty.
“2014 was definitely a record in production,” he says, “And then there’s a certain amount of volume of popcorn [people] want to consume.”
That means farmers didn’t plant as much popcorn to begin with, given their knowledge of last year’s plentiful supply.
“With being down 7,000 acres in harvested acres and having a yield dropping from 48 hundredweight to 37 hundredweight per acre, you’re going to see that overall production drop,” Matli says.
The seed they DID put down didn’t reap as much corn as usual, thanks to bad weather in the northern third of Indiana, where most of the state’s popcorn is grown.
The upside, says Brian Churchill, Operations Manager of the Preferred Popcorn plant in the Harrison County town of Palmyra, is that even though production is peaking, consumer demand is also slowly rising along with it.
"It’s just been exploding in sales," he says. "You go into most grocery stores you’re seeing a lot more different varieties of popped popcorn and flavors in place of potato chips, because it’s a much healthier snack."
Additionally, Churchill says Hollywood is having a great year so far (thanks, Star Wars!), and more people going to movies means more corn heading out the door.