(Repeats Sept 2 story without changes to headline or text)
* Popcorn companies concerned as yield forecasts shrink
* Wholesale prices grow, grocery stores may follow
* Suppliers look to the U.S. South, South America to boost supplies
By P.J. Huffstutter
CHICAGO, Sept 2 (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 Midwestern 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 Midwest, where rows of popcorn normally thrive alongside fields of soybeans, U.S. 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."
BUYERS LINING UP
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 $20 for a 50 pound bag to $30 or higher, said 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.
The hunt for product has staff at the Weaver Popcorn Company Inc searching far and wide for supplies, said Matthew Johnson, who grows for the Van Buren, Indiana firm.
He said his grower representative told him recently company staff are wooing farmers in Louisiana and elsewhere in the South, where the growing season typically starts and ends earlier than the Midwest. They're also scouting acreage in South America, Johnson said, where farmers are preparing to plant their crops in the coming weeks.
Officials for Weaver Popcorn could not be reached for comment Friday.
HIGHER POPCORN PRICES UNLIKELY AT THEATERS
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.
"The popcorn portion of the product is a very low percentage of the price, and the prices are already so high, I think consumers would balk if they went up any higher," said Bob Goldin, director of the food supplier practice at Technomic Inc.
The popcorn industry -- which sold $985.7 million in 2010 worth of unpopped kernels, down 2.2 percent from five years earlier -- is barely an economic nibble out of the country's corn world. Most of the popcorn consumed worldwide is grown in the United States. Export demand for the fluffy, crunchy snack has been slowly rising in recent years from China and Russia.
Still, more than 80 percent of U.S. popcorn production is consumed domestically, according to research by the Ag Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University. The Popcorn Board, an industry trade group, said Americans munch 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn a year.
Eager to feed that appetite, Midwestern farmers say they have long used popcorn, a bit player in the field, as a companion crop for filling up more marginal ground around their field corn and soybeans.
During even the toughest times popcorn can provide an economic boost for those willing to fuss over the plants, as long as the weather stays mild. But when temperatures soared, the crops withered.
The poor weather fueled recent supply concerns for popcorn buyers, said Norm Krug, chief executive officer of Preferred Popcorn, a Nebraska-based, farmer-owned cooperative that supplies popcorn to movie theaters and others.
As prices for commodity corn, used as livestock feed, and soybean hit record highs, Midwestern farmers shifted more of their land to those crops, Krug said.
That competition for land, said Krug, steadily dropped the amount of U.S. planted popcorn acreage to about 190,000 acres (76,890 hectares) last year, according to farmer surveys his group had conducted. The most recent federal data, from 2007, shows that U.S. farmers harvested nearly 202,000 acres (81,747 hectares).
Farmers may have planted even fewer acres this year, Krug said. That left fewer popcorn plants to harvest.
"Most seed growers I know are not taking new customers, because they're afraid that they won't have enough supplies to meet their current demand for their present customers in the fourth quarter," said Pop It Rite's Caldwell.
'MAY LOSE THE CROP'
In Nebraska, the nation's leading producer of the tasty yellow and white kernels, popcorn farmers with irrigation are thankful they've been spared.
"The dry land fields? Those will be pretty much zero ," said Mark McHargue, who farms 230 acres (93 hectares) of yellow popcorn in Central City, Nebraska.
In southern Wisconsin, where irrigation is less prevalent, farmers worried recent rains would have little effect on a crop that struggled through the driest planting season in decades.
And in Indiana, where sizzling weather has devastated large swaths of farmland and shortened the pollination cycle to only a few days, farmers fear strong winds from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac could flatten their already hard-hit fields.
"As you walk through the fields, you have to be careful because if you touch a stalk too hard, it will fall over," said Johnson, who farms 1,200 acres (486 hectares) of popcorn at his family's farm in Jay County, in eastern Indiana. "We get anything 30 mile an hour, we'll lose what crop we have." (Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)
Also on HuffPost:
<a href="http://www.ciat.cgiar.org/Newsroom/Documents/ghana_ivory_coast_climate_change_and_cocoa.pdf" target="_hplink">A report released by the International Center For Tropical Agriculture </a>warns chocolate could become a luxury item if farmers don't adapt to rising temperatures in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where a majority of the world's cocoa is grown.
Coffee lovers may want to get that caffeine fix before the treasured drink becomes an extinct export. Starbucks raised the issue last year when the company's director of sustainability told <em>The Guardian</em> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/16/starbucks-climate-change_n_1011222.html" target="_hplink">climate change is shortening the supply chain of Arabica coffee bean</a>.
Famed for producing some of the world's best beer, <a href="http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080502/full/news.2008.799.html" target="_hplink">Germany could suffer from a drop in production due to climate change induced water shortages</a>. Barley and hops can only be grown with water and using cheaper alternatives like corn isn't possible in Germany because of strict regulations about what you can make beer with.
Thanks to a failing peanut crop due to last summer's scorching hot weather, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/10/peanut-butter-price-jump_n_1003732.html" target="_hplink">there's a shortage of peanuts in supply</a>. If temperatures continue to rise, a jump in peanut butter prices is just the prelude to what's in store for the beloved American spread.
Scientists at the British Meteorological Office warn that Italy may soon be forced to<a href="http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/climate-threat-to-italys-pasta/story-e6frg6so-1225797946930" target="_hplink"> import the basic ingredients to make pasta because climate change will make it impossible to grow durum wheat domestically</a>. The crop could almost disappear from the country later this century, say scientists.
<a href="http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/goodbye-maple-syrup-climate-change-pushing-sugar-maple-out-of-northeast-us.html" target="_hplink">A warming climate could make maple syrup history.</a> Shorter cycles of below freezing weather mean sugar maples aren't producing enough sap, which is later boiled down to make maple syrup.
<a href="http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/current/Hone/Hone-03-30-2012.pdf" target="_hplink">It's no secret that bee populations are dropping nationwide</a>. Wetter winters and rainy summers make it harder for bees to get out and about to collect, leaving them to starve or become malnourished and more prone to other diseases. This doesn't just mean a decline in honey. We rely on bees to pollinate crops. When bees disappear many food crops could also die off.
<a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/best-served-chilled-top-french-wines-at-risk-from-climate-change-a-748139.html" target="_hplink">France is losing its enviable climate for grape growing</a> thanks to a shifting climate. Because a wine's taste is a result of the balance of sugar and acidity in the grapes it is made from, the right growing temperature is essential. Grapes grown in cold are unlikely to develop fruity flavors, giving an acidic taste. Warm weather produces too much sugar, leaving a "jammy" and heavy taste.
Also On The Huffington Post...
This trailer for "Carbon Nation", documentary movie about climate change SOLUTIONS, will impact you even if you doubt the severity of the impact of climate change or just don't buy it at all.