Q & A with a Popcorn Farmer

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Zach Hunnicutt

AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee Chairman

Foodie News: Tell us a little about Hunnicutt Farms.

Hunnicutt: I farm with my dad and my brother. My brother and I are the fifth generation on the farm. We raise mostly corn, popcorn, soybeans and a little bit of seed corn. As far as the popcorn goes, that really is determined a lot of times by the needs of the company that we contract with. A lot of what we raise is either used for microwave popcorn or theater grade popcorn.


Foodie News: Have you seen more sales and interest in popcorn recently?

Hunnicutt: I recently saw someone declaring popcorn the hottest snack of2013. It’s a high-fiber, whole grain snack; it has a lot going for it nutritionally. Obviously you can counteract that by overdoing it on some of the butter and salt. We are seeing a whole lot more candied popcorns…all different flavors and different kinds of caramel corn.


Foodie News: How does demand for popcorn affect you as a popcorn grower?

Hunnicutt: Popcorn has gone right along with the increase in the price of corn for livestock. We have seen the profitability of popcorn exceed that of other kinds of corn in recent years. It seems to be a recession-proof kind of product. People are always going to eat popcorn and there seems to be a growing demand for it so that certainly doesn’t hurt us on the farm.


Foodie News: How do you market your popcorn?

Hunnicutt: We contract with and sell all our popcorn to a company called Preferred Popcorn in Chapman, Neb. Having a contract with a company is necessary because with all the differences in markets it’s pretty tough to sell it wholesale.


Foodie News: Do you think the popcorn trend will continue to be strong?

Hunnicutt: I think we will see movement in the direction of popcorn chips. This is when popcorn is pressed down into a chip shape, so you are getting the taste and nutrition of popcorn combined with the shape and convenience of a tortilla chip.


Foodie News: What do you think about chefs using popcorn as croutons and adding international flavors?

Hunnicutt: I haven’t seen anything in a restaurant setting but I have seen more gourmet popcorn shops showing up. I would be interested to see popcorn in a restaurant environment, too.


Foodie News: Is there anything special or challenging about growing popcorn as a crop?

Hunnicutt: The biggest challenge we have raising popcorn is that we’re behind technologically. It’s a little like raising old varieties of corn. Popcorn cannot withstand challenges such as disease and wind as well as newer varieties of corn and other crops we grow. When we are harvesting and transporting popcorn, we have to be more careful with it since it’s a food grade product. We have to make sure we don’t have any soybeans or yellow corn in any of our harvesting equipment when we are handling it.


Foodie News: Do you and your family eat a lot of popcorn?

Hunnicutt: We do! We have a couple of 50-pound bags of popcorn sitting in the kitchen right now. The average American eats 68 quarts of popped popcorn a year. I know that we are well above that in our house.


Foodie News: Any closing thoughts about popcorn?

Hunnicutt: We do see it popping up a lot more—no pun intended—in a lot more places and it’s been kind of fun to see that. It’s a really good way to talk to people about farming, too, since everyone has a tie-in to popcorn whether it’s at a sporting event or movie.


Foodie News: How can our readers learn more about popcorn?

Hunnicutt: By visiting www.preferredpopcorn.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at @zjhunn, my brother at @cornfedfarmer and my dad at @darhun.