by Krystle Rhoades, TAPS Program Manager
Lincoln, Neb. —Popcorn may not be the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions corn in the state of Nebraska, but the “Cornhusker State” is actually the top producer of the number one snack food in the world. Popcorn is on the minds of the Testing Ag Performance Solutions (TAPS) program this year as the first farm management competition for the popular snack is set to be conducted in 2023.
When Luke Zangger, Vice President and Production Manager of Zangger Popcorn Hybrids, was exposed to the TAPS concept at a Nebraska LEAD presentation, he immediately thought of what implications the program might have for the popcorn industry. Through conversations among their company and with TAPS personnel, the idea of having a TAPS Popcorn Competition was put into action.
Zangger Popcorn Hybrids has been at the forefront of the Nebraska popcorn industry since the 1980s. The North Loup, Nebraska, family-owned and operated business is an industry leading seed supplier for popcorn producers across the nation and around the world. Zangger Popcorn Hybrids supports their product and the industry in any capacity they can, which now includes partnering with and providing support for the new TAPS competition.
TAPS launched in 2017 at the University of Nebraska’s West Central Research, Extension and Education Center in North Platte, Nebraska, with a single competition in sprinkler irrigated corn. Since the inception, competitions in subsurface drip irrigated corn and sorghum were added. As with the other competitions, the popcorn competitors will compete for three awards, which include greatest grain yield, highest input-use efficiency, and most profitable.
Zangger looks forward to comparing the results from the sprinkler irrigated corn competition to the popcorn competition since the two will be in the same field, under the same environment and conditions. “One of the major challenges in the popcorn industry is competing for acres versus other crops, such as dent corn and soybeans, so we are very excited about learning how popcorn compares profitability-wise against other crops,” Zangger added.
Participants in the popcorn competition will decide, just as they would on an actual popcorn operation, the following farm management components: crop insurance, seeding rate, irrigation management, nitrogen management, fungicide, and marketing. These decisions will then be imposed on the teams’ randomized plots within the field.
Over the years, both farmers and processors in the industry have discussed the ideal range of nitrogen that should be applied to reach optimum efficiency, in terms of yield. “While there are many variables that can impact that answer and one shoe doesn’t fit all situations, I believe there is a general range of efficiency for nitrogen use in relationship to yield and TAPS is a place where this can be further analyzed and researched,” Zangger commented. Chuck Burr, Extension Educator and TAPS team member, added in agreement, “We are very excited to learn more about nitrogen use efficiency and also irrigation efficiency in popcorn production. We need to learn more about sustainably producing popcorn and share that with growers and the popcorn industry, as a whole.”
A cornerstone of the TAPS program is the peer-to-peer interaction and benchmarking opportunities that are shared among participants. “Getting people in the popcorn industry to come together to talk about and compare farming practice is always exciting for us,” Zangger remarked. The participants for the flagship year of the popcorn competition are located across the globe, including the TAPS program’s first international participant. The participants include seasoned popcorn producers and those who have never grown the crop, and others are from large corporations involved in the popcorn industry. Zangger said that “most have a vested interest in learning the results from TAPS, but all are out to win!”