Popcorn – A Major Speciality Crop
NOTE: No podcast today, just a plain old-fashioned article.
Popcorn flies under the radar in most of Ohio as a specialty crop. It is grown in only a few counties, and typically produced by select growers. The interest in popcorn as a specialty crop is logical: in many years popcorn can offer greater profit potential than field corn, popcorn is far less bulky than field corn, and popcorn is grown under contract. However, there is also a downside to popcorn production. Limited hybrid selection and greater disease susceptibility are major drawbacks for producing popcorn.
Van Wert County is the number one popcorn producing county in Ohio, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and accounts for over 30% of Ohio’s popcorn acres. The next closest county is Erie, accounting for approximately 10% of Ohio’s popcorn production.
Growing popcorn takes unique management skills, as there is a lot of downtime in popcorn production. Cleaning and adjusting equipment for popcorn harvest requires that an operator plans and manages for downtime. Also, it’s important to note that the wrong attitude can and will get you locked out of the popcorn business. Support for popcorn production is lacking, in the past several years there has been a shift away from Universities supporting popcorn markets. This is mainly due to the highly specialized nature of popcorn and the small number of growers involved in popcorn production. Most of the resources and information for popcorn production comes directly from one of the few popcorn companies that contract production.
Popcorn has long been thought of to be more profitable than dent corn, with the understanding that popcorn is a more management intensive crop. It is not uncommon for popcorn growers to see a 10% advantage in gross revenue from popcorn production compared to dent corn. Typically, expenses are fixed when comparing dent corn to popcorn and that 10% increase in gross revenue can translate in to a 10% increase in profit when compared to dent corn. However, a recent increase in dent corn price may ‘even the playing field’ for dent corn production, and certainly put upward pressure on popcorn contracts.
The long-term future of popcorn production in the United States is difficult to predict. Popcorn consumption by U.S. Consumers has reportedly flattened, and growth possibilities appear to lie in increasing popcorn exports.
As of July, 2008, the largest contractor of popcorn in my area is Weaver Popcorn.