The popcorn industry feeling the heat with the drought

Reported by: Rebecca Rivers

Reported by: Andrew Wood
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Updated: 5/02/2013 9:14 am

That popping sound is music to Jim Mock's ears. Plus, it smells pretty sweet, too. Mock is the owner of Panhandle Popcorn in Plainview.

"Panhandle Popcorn was started right here in 1942 in Plainview. We were in an old mule barn on Ash Street until 1981 until whenever we moved out here," Mock said. "We grew a lot of popcorn in this area, the Beard family owned it at that time. About 1956 we started buying from a processor up in Missouri and we still do business with that same processor today."

Corn grown in this region is either sweet corn for human consumption or livestock feed. Most of the country's popcorn is grown in the corn belt. And with the record drought hitting the Midwest last year, the popcorn crop felt the heat. But things are already shaping up a little better this year than last.

"Popcorn season parallels with the corn season. It's planted the same time. Up in that area, they're starting to plant right now and they'll start harvesting in August," Mock said. "The corn crop was pretty short last year. The price of corn has gone up, and so the price of popcorn has gone up as well. I'm very hopeful that they'll come down. They're as high as they've ever been, so we're hopeful that we're going to have a real good corn crop this year and the price is going to stabilize and go a little lower."

But the good news is that demand for popcorn is staying up, too. The organic popcorn market is an area that's growing, and with increased awareness for healthy eating, Panhandle Popcorn's processing keeps things light.

"It's a healthy snack, and we use 100% pure coconut oil when we pop our popcorn," Mock said. "We have a hull-less popcorn that is designed for high volume. If you pop a pallet of popcorn for instance, that would fill up a 48 foot semi truck. So our popcorn is really designed for the higher volume people, it's more tender than regular popcorn and it also pops off the hull. We can pop up to 2,500 pounds a day whenever we're really cranking."

And from starting its roots in Missouri to being popped in the Panhandle of Texas, the popcorn then makes one more stop to its chosen destination. Panhandle Popcorn distributes the tasty snack to various locations across the country.

"Panhandle Popcorn first started for the concession business. We sell to schools and little leagues, we sell to Texas Tech and WT, people that pop popcorn for their concession stands and that's what we did for a number of years, and then in the late 1970's we started doing popcorn tins. we do popcorn tins for Neiman Marcus and have for the last 30 years. We do that mainly at Christmas time for Christmas gifts and business gifts. We pop a lot of popcorn for supermarkets for United and various grocery store chains. So, anything that has to do with popcorn, we pretty much try to do it," Mock said. 

So next time you're in the mood for anything popcorn, grabbing a bag is not only a healthy treat, but could also help support local agriculture and businesses like Panhandle Popcorn.

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