According to Terry Keeneth, agriculture and natural resources Extension educator in Gibson County, there's a good market for white corn, which is used for food products such as tortillas, taco shells, grits and hominy. Snack food alone is a $10 billion per year industry, and Keeneth would like to see Hoosier farmers get a piece of that.
"White food corn is 1 percent of total corn production," he says. "It's a minor player in the big picture, but it could become a major player in the economy down here. We produce good quality corn here. The climate's good, and there are not a lot of mycotoxins."
Keeneth says a half million acres of corn are grown in the six southwestern Indiana counties that raise white corn (Gibson, Knox, Posey, Spencer, Vanderburgh and Warrick), and any part of that acreage could be switched over to food-grade corn.
Food-grade corn pays better because millers set high standards for corn purchased for human consumption, Keeneth says. Producers can earn 30 cents to $1.50 per bushel more for quality white corn than for regular field corn, so it's important to them, as well.
Binhack, who's grown white corn for 10 years, says he can get at least a 50-cent-per-bushel premium for his crop. But, he says, he has had to prove he can consistently raise a quality product in volume from one year to the next.
"Management and handling are the biggest problems," Binhack says. "You have to get it out of the field with a minimum of damage."
Keeneth says millers will accept no more than 20 percent stress crack damage, because stress-cracked kernels cook at different rates than undamaged ones, yielding an inconsistent end product.
"The building of an Azteca (Milling Co.) plant last year in northern Vanderburgh County sparked interest," Keeneth says. "We've had white corn here for years, but we're refocusing on it now."
Seventy percent of the corn Azteca uses is white corn, he says, and the other 30 percent is yellow food-grade corn. At full capacity the mill would require about 5.5 million bushels of corn per year.
The arrival of Azteca has helped ensure a uniform market and interested more farmers in the crop, according to Binhack. He says that because value-added commodities are hot now and because southwestern Indiana is especially suitable for growing the white corn, the larger farmers are willing to take a risk on it. That, in turn, helps the smaller farmers by creating the market.
"I see a very bright future for white corn," Binhack says. "I think it'll get bigger as it goes along."
CONTACTS: Keeneth, (812) 385-3491; e-mail, Terry_Keeneth@acn.purdue.edu
Binhack, (812) 386-7243
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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