Nebraska Farmers Planting Enough Popcorn to Feed Billions


Global demand drives business to central Nebraska. The world wants more of a product that Nebraska does better than anyone -- popcorn.

"Popcorn's associated with ball games and movie night," Mark McHargue of Central City said.

He recently filled the planter with popcorn. Each bag of seed he loaded is enough for 100,000 servings of the tasty treat.

McHargue said, "A lot of times think about how many tubs of popcorn in the movie will this sell for and it's kind of staggering how many people just this field we're planting is going to feed."

He said the 230 acre field near Central City will produce six million servings. Everyone in Grand Island could eat popcorn twice a week and there'd still be some left.

But most of the popcorn will head far from Nebraska, to places like China, Japan, and Mexico.

He said, "To think someone in Egypt next winter sitting down with their family is going to be eating our popcorn, that's exciting. It makes farming real when you think about it in those terms."

Not all corn is popcorn. Most of the fields we see will feed livestock or ethanol plants. Popcorn is a different variety.

"It's a really big seed called mushroom popcorn, pops real big, they use it in caramel corn, because it gets a lot of coating on it, and it shows real well in a bag," McHargue said.

It's not a big adjustment from a farming perspective. Mark uses the same planter and combine as he does with field corn.

He said, "Typically the popcorn will be harvested first, it's a shorter season. It takes about half the amount of fertilizer as field corn, because you're not growing as much product."

It is considered a specialty crop, which has some benefits on the business side of farming.

McHargue said, "Anytime you diversify a little bit, it helps your portfolio be balanced."

Nebraska is now the number one popcorn state.

Norm Krug, CEO of Preferred Popcorn said there's less drought risk, because farmers irrigate in Nebraska.

When a buyer orders popcorn from the Chapman-based company, Krug said they don't want to hear about drought, they just want to know the popcorn will be shipped.

When it comes to growing popcorn, McHargue said it's just fun to grow something that makes people happy.

"Whenever you tell someone you raise popcorn, they're like 'really, you raise popcorn?' that's just fun as a producer," he said.

McHargue grows for Preferred Popcorn.

Krug, the CEO said they grew enough popcorn last year to serve 2.5 billion people around the world.

Krug said they grow much of that around the Ogallala area, and around Central City, but have growers in other states as well.