Harrison County popcorn harvest is big business for the regional economy

Weather means smaller popcorn crop for Harrison County farmers

LANESVILLE, IN (WAVE) – In the fields in Lanesville, Indiana, it's harvest season for farmers. Though what they’re combining in the fields may not be your typical crop.

Gary Wolfe is a Harrison County popcorn farmer whose kernels brought in 5.7 million pounds of popcorn last year. He's committing more than 1,000 acres of his land to the crop.
Gary Wolfe is a Harrison County popcorn farmer whose kernels brought in 5.7 million pounds of popcorn last year. He's committing more than 1,000 acres of his land to the crop. (Source: Steven Richard, WAVE 3 News)

"They'll look at it and say, 'that's popcorn?'," said Gary Wolfe, a farmer in Lanesville, Indiana.

Wolfe and his family have been producing popcorn for decades.

Much of the popcorn produced in Harrison County, Indiana will be sent to 70 countries all around the world.
Much of the popcorn produced in Harrison County, Indiana will be sent to 70 countries all around the world. (Source: Steven Richard, WAVE 3 News)

"Grew up, parents farmed, raised hogs and now we like popcorn," he said.

Last year, his kernels brought in 5.7 million pounds of popcorn, committing more than 1,000 acres of his land to the crop. A wet spring and dry summer means a far smaller crop for Wolfe and other farmers in the area. And with the dry weather in recent weeks, that crop is ready to harvest much earlier than usual.

Preferred Popcorn Indiana produces 90 million pounds of popcorn a year.
Preferred Popcorn Indiana produces 90 million pounds of popcorn a year. (Source: Steven Richard, WAVE 3 News)

"Drying down very fast,” Wolfe said. “With all the heat and dry weather, the moisture's come out and it's perfect harvest conditions.”

Wolfe loads the kernels from the combine into a semi to be shipped off, a slow but steady process.

Brian Churchill is a popcorn farmer and Preferred Popcorn Indiana Plant Manager.
Brian Churchill is a popcorn farmer and Preferred Popcorn Indiana Plant Manager. (Source: Steven Richard, WAVE 3 News)

"Once it's on the truck, it's going to them," Wolfe said. Then, his kernels will head over to Preferred Popcorn in Palmyra where only the best kernels will become your popcorn.

Dropped off just the day before, Wolfe's first crop is already bagged, ready to ship out to South Korea.

Preferred Popcorn Indiana produces 90 million pounds of popcorn a year.
Preferred Popcorn Indiana produces 90 million pounds of popcorn a year. (Source: Steven Richard, WAVE 3 News)

"And a 50 pound bag will make about 150 movie tubs," said Brian Churchill, a popcorn farmer and Preferred Popcorn Indiana Plant Manager. "And each container holds 900."

What farmers like Wolfe are growing here in Harrison County will be sent around the region.

Much of the popcorn produced in Harrison County, Indiana will be sent to 70 countries all around the world.
Much of the popcorn produced in Harrison County, Indiana will be sent to 70 countries all around the world. (Source: Steven Richard, WAVE 3 News)

"If you go to a UofL game, a UK game, whatever side of the river you're on, you're likely going to be eating Preferred Popcorn," Churchill said.

But much of that popcorn will be sent to 70 countries all around the world.

"There's about 130 to 135,000 servings of popcorn in every container that leaves our doors," Churchill said.

During harvest season, loads come in quickly. Preferred Popcorn produces 90 million pounds of popcorn a year. The Hoosier state is considered the largest popcorn producer in the U.S., Churchill said, though he admits the USDA counts its kernels a little differently.

As demand for these kernels grow around the globe, it's farmers like Wolfe in Harrison County that pop up at the center of it all.

"We like it," Wolfe said. "We love it."

Even with a year of weather woes popping up, the popcorn producers remain proud of the way they're feeding the world.

“Popcorn is such a fun snack and everybody’s always happy. And we want to keep it that way,” Churchill said.

Copyright 2019 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.