Popcorn drought hits US movie theaters (+video)
Popcorn drought in the Midwest has movie theaters and other vendors scrambling to keep their supplies stocked through the fall. The popcorn drought has sent retail prices soaring from $20 per 50-pound bag to $30 and higher.
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During even the toughest times popcorn can provide an economic boost for those willing to fuss over the plants, as long as the weather stays mild. But when temperatures soared, the crops withered.Skip to next paragraph
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The poor weather fueled recent supply concerns for popcorn buyers, said Norm Krug, chief executive officer of Preferred Popcorn, a Nebraska-based, farmer-owned cooperative that supplies popcorn to movie theaters and others.
As prices for commodity corn, used as livestock feed, and soybean hit record highs, Midwestern farmers shifted more of their land to those crops, Krug said.
That competition for land, said Krug, steadily dropped the amount of U.S. planted popcorn acreage to about 190,000 acres (76,890 hectares) last year, according to farmer surveys his group had conducted. The most recent federal data, from 2007, shows that U.S. farmers harvested nearly 202,000 acres (81,747 hectares).
Farmers may have planted even fewer acres this year, Krug said. That left fewer popcorn plants to harvest.
"Most seed growers I know are not taking new customers, because they're afraid that they won't have enough supplies to meet their current demand for their present customers in the fourth quarter," said Pop It Rite's Caldwell.
'MAY LOSE THE CROP'
In Nebraska, the nation's leading producer of the tasty yellow and white kernels, popcorn farmers with irrigation are thankful they've been spared.
"The dry land fields? Those will be pretty much zero ," said Mark McHargue, who farms 230 acres (93 hectares) of yellow popcorn in Central City, Nebraska.
In southern Wisconsin, where irrigation is less prevalent, farmers worried recent rains would have little effect on a crop that struggled through the driest planting season in decades.
And in Indiana, where sizzling weather has devastated large swaths of farmland and shortened the pollination cycle to only a few days, farmers fear strong winds from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac could flatten their already hard-hit fields.
"As you walk through the fields, you have to be careful because if you touch a stalk too hard, it will fall over," said Johnson, who farms 1,200 acres (486 hectares) of popcorn at his family's farm in Jay County, in eastern Indiana. "We get anything 30 mile an hour, we'll lose what crop we have." (Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)