Producing popcorn in Mason County

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 4:16 PM CST
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MASON COUNTY (25 News Now) - We’ve learned a lot today so let’s relax with some popcorn while we visit with Steve Turner, a popcorn farmer in Mason County.

I started farming with my father-in-law in 1989 and he was one of the first when popcorn came to the Mason County area about early 80′s - 1984 - I think he was one of the first producers to sign up and raise it and it’s still around today.

It’s a crop that likes sand - and we have a lot of sand - and likes irrigation.

It’s been a good crop for us. The reason we do raise it eight years out it’s probably one of our best money maker crop of all the crop we raise right here - you know, if it keeps working you stay with it.

It’s ballooned in this county. I’d say Mason, Tazewell and some of Cass county are probably the biggest area of popcorn production in the United States -- matter of fact I think Mason County is the popcorn king of the whole country and sometimes I’ve heard the whole world right here, there’s a lot acres here and like I said it likes the sand and likes the irrigation so a lot of producers like me benefit from it.

Number 1, I have not met anybody yet that does not like popcorn.

It was around 450 acres - when you think of one farm operation, raising over 2 million pounds of popcorn there’s a lot of appetite for popcorn not only in the United States but worldwide.

Really, harvest-wise we use a conventional combine just like we do for field corn. The only real difference is probably on the settings we try to make sure we’ve got [...] speed control and what that means is slowing things down so when we shell it just like commercial corn is done but we got to make sure we don’t crack it.

When you look at it, it looks like a shrunken corn ear. It’s a lot smaller in size but that’s misleading because when you get into the weight of a bushel -- a commercial corn standard is 56 pounds per bushel -- that kernel is probably half the size of a commercial corn but it’s very dense and its test [...] within 65-68 pounds so it’s a very heavy crop.

Moisture itself -- we can’t pick it at 25% moisture and run it through the grain dryer - you can’t apply heat to it - you know what happens to popcorn. So we start about 17, 17.5 percent maybe put in a bin to put some air on it.

It comes back to it being a fun crop and I know I look back my family when I grew up with my parents and my children [...] how many family times we’ve had around popcorn - maybe it was sitting down watching a movie or maybe with somebody going to a theater like that and with the holiday season yeah it’s all about family and popcorn - it’s a quick thing to make for food product makers - not a lot of work involved with it either.