…Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack…
Soon we will flip the calendar to April and although spring is already here, the arrival of April for most people means winter is officially in the rearview mirror and we can all look forward to backyard barbeques, firing up the lawnmower, and pollen…oh the pollen. But more importantly for some of us, it means that baseball season is finally here! This is especially true following a year of being cooped up while navigating the pandemic. Here at Medius Ag where we love our sports, it got us thinking about someday soon getting back to the ballpark to enjoy our national pastime as it was intended: in person in the open air and with a box or bag of Cracker Jack (yes, it’s singular).
We will leave the history and fun facts of Cracker Jack to the experts in that area and focus on the main ingredient of the ballpark snack: popcorn. (Side note: Apparently the peanut-to-popcorn ratio in Cracker Jack is a big deal, but you’ll have to read the linked article above for those details.) Yes, underneath all that sticky molasses and other goodness lies popcorn.
Our research undoubtedly just skims the surface on U.S. popcorn production, but what we found is rather interesting. For starters, popcorn production makes up a tiny fraction of overall corn production in the United States. Last June we highlighted sweet corn for National Corn on the Cob Day. One of the takeaways from that post is that sweet corn makes up only about one percent of all corn grown in the United States, or 6.3 million hundredweight in 2019 according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). But if you go back to 2017 which was the most recent year that field corn, sweet corn, and popcorn all had harvested acres tracked by NASS, you’d find that of the 91,565,336 total acres harvested, popcorn accounted for 221,264 acres, or only 0.24 percent of the total corn acreage. The average popcorn yield per acre in 2017 was 4,840 pounds for a total of 1.07 million pounds. That’s a lot of Cracker Jack.
For as relatively small as the U.S. popcorn harvest is, the crop is found in more states than not. In fact, NASS reported 33 states produced popcorn in 2017, with Nebraska (368 million pounds), Indiana (352 million pounds), and Ohio (130 million pounds) leading the way. A couple of months ago we stumbled across an interesting personal Twitter account of a USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist named Zachary Stansell stationed in New York. He developed a tool that maps out different commodities that the USDA tracks by county. It illustrates the data very well. (The entire thread is rather interesting.)
At Popcorn.org, the official website of the U.S. Popcorn Board, consumers can learn all about one of America’s favorite snacks. In the website’s “Corny Facts” section they report that the average annual popcorn consumption per American is 47 quarts! Unfortunately, they don’t tell us how much of the U.S. popcorn production is for Cracker Jack, but they do tell us that there are two different types of popcorn: butterfly and mushroom. The mushroom type is sturdier and thus used in snacks like Cracker Jack. Perhaps the most interesting part of the website is the impressive collection of recipe videos they offer; including “Ballpark Popcorn Crunch” which we can only guess is a homemade version of, you guessed it…Cracker Jack.