From the Farmer's Tractor
December 30, 2007
K. Scott Arvin, 56, is popcorn farmer in Remington, Indiana – a town about 100 miles south of Chicago in the heart of popcorn country. His farm, Tri County Farms, Inc., grows corn specifically for Vogel Popcorn under the Con Agra umbrella, and previously for Orville Redenbacher (Vogel Popcorn is responsible for about 52% of the total annual popcorn production in the U.S.). Arvin and his wife of 37 years, Linda, have four children and five grandchildren.
How did you get into popcorn farming?
I am a fourth generation farmer, having raised corn, soybeans, seed corn, a little wheat and, of course, popcorn. I have been farming for nearly 30 years but I got into popcorn about 15 years ago as a better profit opportunity.
How will popcorn farming evolve in the next five years?
Unless we get the opportunity to raise popcorn with some GMO traits, I don't see the industry changing a great deal as far as actual production goes. However, there will be increasing amounts of regulations and paperwork that convey to the end user all the practices that were employed in the production of this food item, like the types of herbicides used and the dates of application. We have to be able to trace the product completely back to its point of origin.
What is your greatest challenge as a popcorn farmer?
Not having access to these GMO traits such as corn borer resistance or rootworm resistance is an issue. Another issue is the standability of the crop in the fall. It has improved a great deal through the years, but it has more of a tendency to go down than commercial corn.
We are also very concerned with the cleanliness of the popcorn coming out of the field. We want it to be free from any foreign matter that could eventually end up on someone’s table. The company that I contract with, Vogel Popcorn, has strict policies on combine cleanliness. We are even required to attend a daylong classroom session that emphasizes and instructs us on these issues.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
That is difficult for a contract grower to know. Obviously, Vogel indicates this information to us by either expanding or reducing acres for the following year.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
We're doing more “no till” now than a few years ago. Luckily, popcorn adapts itself very well to that practice. With no tillage, you can just go to the field and start planting.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Most people are interested in the process of how the popcorn goes from a plant in the field to ending up in a glass jar or a plastic bag that they find on their local grocery shelf. When I mention how many kernels of popcorn can be raised from a single acre of land, they are amazed.
How many kernels of popcorn can be raised from a single acre of land?
A single of acre of land can hold around 20 million kernels, and that expands about 1000%, covering the ground to look like up to three to four inches of snow. It’s just incredible.