TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — Senate Bill 97 honors Indiana's rich history of successful popcorn production. The bill designates popcorn grown in Indiana as the official state snack.
Indiana and Nebraska are the top two leading states for popcorn production in the United States, according to Senate Bill 97.
According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, Indiana planted 94,000 acres of popcorn and harvested 93,000 acres and 2016.
That was an increase from 2015 where Indiana planted 85,000 acres and harvested 83,000 acres.
Two companies within the WLFI viewing area play an important role in Indiana’s successful popcorn production.
“We’re lucky to be in a great location to grow corn seed,” said Jay Hulbert. “Indiana is one of the premier hybrid corn seed production areas in the world.”
Jay Hulbert is the President and CEO of Ag Alumni Seed, located in Romney.
“We’re an odd little business,” said Hulbert. “We are a not-for-profit affiliate of Purdue University and we’re Indian’s foundation seed company.”
Hulbert is pleased with the Ag Alumni facility and what the operation is able to do for popcorn production.
“We’re a leading breeder, producer, and marketer or hybrid popcorn seed,” said Hulbert. “We’ve come to specialize in hybrid popcorn seed, which has become over 90% of our business since about 1995”
“We breed new popcorn hybrids and we test them across the Corn Belt and in various international locations,” said Hulbert. “Then we produce seed and market it to popcorn companies.”
Once the seed is marketed to popcorn companies, the companies create contracts with farmers to grow the popcorn.
In order to create the best hybrid, Ag Alumni is constantly testing the performance of each hybrid.
“We typically develop and test several thousand new hybrids every year and then only a couple of those make it through to the marketplace,” said Hulbert. “We’re always breeding popcorn hybrids with higher yields.”
Ag Alumni Seed works closely with Gutwein Popcorn, located in Pulaski County.
“We’re a family business my dad started it in 1998,” said the Gutwein Popcorn Plant Manager, Tyler Gutwein. “We process and package popcorn.”
Tyler says they have contracts with 13 growers. The growers are able to grow the popcorn for the Gutweins to use.
“We supply the seed to them, which a portion of that comes from Ag alumni,” said Tyler “Once it's harvested, they bring it in here, we condition it, clean it and package it."
The Gutwein family also farms, where they're able to take part in growing popcorn on their farmland.
Tyler's brother, Lance, takes care of planting and harvesting.
"We farm three thousand acres. We usually have about 500 acres of beans and the rest is popcorn,” said Lance.
Lance said the moisture for popcorn has to be just right.
“You want the moisture to be a lot dryer than field corn,” said Lance. “You want to try to be around 14% or 15%.”
After the popcorn is harvested, it’s not processed immediately. In order to get the moisture where they want it, the popcorn is stored in grain bins.
"It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months to get it conditioned to the right moisture,” said Tyler. "Once it's conditioned, we bring it into the plant and it runs through the cleaning equipment and then it can be packaged.”
“So new crop in the fall can take up to three months until it's ready to go,” said Tyler.
“I remember when we first started we were packaging two-pound bags of corn by hand and then selling it,” said Tyler. “To see where we’ve come now is really amazing.”
Tyler said he’s been happy with how much the business has continued to grow.
While looking ahead to the future, Tyler knows Gutwein Popcorn will continue to provide high-quality popcorn to customers.
"We would like to continue to grow,” said Tyler. “However, we don't want to lose sight of what we do here. We produce high-quality corn."
Each November, the USDA NASS conducts a survey in cooperation with Purdue University. The most recent survey indicates 2020 was a record year for popcorn production in Indiana.
The USDA NASS report indicates that Indiana planted 94,000 acres of popcorn in 2020, which is up from 75,000 acres planted in 2019.
At this time, Senate Bill 97 has passed the Senate. The bill has been referred to a committee in the house.