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Bad news for movie fans, US drought hits popcorn crop

Published on Sep 2, 2012 6:35 PM
Lisa Anderson, dressed in a Batman costume, buys popcorn in a concession line before a midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises", the final installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, in Los Angeles, California on July 19, 2012. While consumers may have to pay more for the snack at the grocery store soon, some analysts say the chances of prices rising for a bucket of movie theater popcorn are slim. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

CHICAGO (REUTERS) - For more than half a century, the Shew family has harvested mountains of popcorn kernels to be buttered, salted and munched by movie fans.

But as a crippling Mid-western drought sends commodity soybean and grain prices soaring, the family's farmland in west-central Indiana is suffering. Plants are listing, stalks are spindly and corn ears small. It's an ill portent for the snack food world. All across the Mid-west, where rows of popcorn normally thrive alongside fields of soybeans, United States (US) popcorn farmers have watched in horror as stifling, triple-digit temperatures and weeks without rain withered crops.

"This is the worst season we've ever had," said third-generation popcorn purveyor Mark Shew, who runs the family's farm in Vigo County. "In some places, they're going to be down to counting kernels at the bottom of the storage bins."

The situation has had popcorn buyers - from small mom-and-pop shops to larger food chains - scrambling for months to line up their supplies for this fall. Their options are limited. Retail prices have jumped this summer: from about US$20 (S$25) for a 22.6kg bag to US$30 or higher, said Mr Tim Caldwell, owner of Pop It Rite, an Illinois-based popcorn industry expert and snack foods consultant. Wholesale prices have started to creep up, too, he said.

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