Indiana may salt away popcorn ranking

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Indiana popcorn farming lost some of its pop last year, as oversupply led to reduced contract prices offered to growers for their 2000 acreage.

In the process, the state may lose its place as the nation’s leading popcorn producer. The lower prices resulted in a nearly 27-percent drop in harvested acres from the previous year.

The price drop led some farmers to abandon popcorn to plant more lucrative crops, according to Ralph Gann, Indiana state agricultural statistician.

“Farmers decided to stop planting popcorn and moved to soybeans,” Gann said.

Popcorn, unlike field corn or soybeans, is produced almost exclusively by contract.

Last year, processors offered producers 9.1 cents per pound for popcorn, down from 10 cents per pound in 1999 and 11.7 cents in 1998.

Processors lowered popcorn bid prices because there was enough of the 1999 crop to cover demand into 2000, Gann reported.

If popcorn farmers continue to turn to other crops to maintain profits, processor bids will rise again once the current popcorn supply diminishes, he said.

Indiana farmers harvested 55,000 acres of popcorn in 2000, 20,000 acres below 1999 reports. Popcorn acreage has been decreasing since 1997, when 88,000 acres were harvested in state.

While all other aspects of popcorn production were down in 2000, yields increased to 3,500 pounds per acre, up 200 pounds per acre from 1999.

“It was an ideal planting season,” Gann said. “There was adequate moisture all the way up to about August. Just like corn and soybean yields, popcorn yields increased.”

According to the National Popcorn Institute in Chicago, Indiana led the nation in popcorn production in 1998 and 1999. Indiana may lose the No. 1 spot after other states report statistics for the 2000 crop season.

Popcorn can be grown in all regions of Indiana, though much of it is grown in the northern third of the state. White, Pulaski, Fulton and Jasper are the leading Hoosier popcorn counties.

The latest Census of Agriculture, collected in 1997, reported 449 Indiana farms under contract with popcorn processors.

Americans consume 17.3 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year, the National Popcorn Institute reports. The average American eats about 68 quarts.

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