Choosing The Right Sweet Corn Hybrids

Keepin' It Sweet

Although it’s a common practice to study plant populations in field corn, University of Illinois associate professor of crop sciences and USDA-ARS ecologist Marty Williams, said almost no research exists for determining the number of plants needed to optimize yield in processing sweet corn, which accounts for most of the U.S. sweet corn acreage.
“The only published results on this subject took place in the mid-1960s on the varieties Golden Cross Bantam and Jubilee,” Williams said. “Today those hybrids are 79 and 50 years old, respectively. The sweet corn industry, both growers and processors, needs relevant information on modern varieties to help them achieve maximum profits.”
The priorities of processing sweet corn are quite different than fresh-market sweet corn, he said.
“Unlike fresh-market sweet corn, ear size and appearance don’t really matter in processing sweet corn,” Williams said. “What’s important is how many cases of sweet corn are produced per acre.”
Because of this, fresh-market sweet corn research simply doesn’t apply since different hybrids are used and different traits are important. In 2009, the Midwest Food Processors Association asked Williams to conduct research on the relationship between plant populations and profitability in processing sweet corn. 
So where does yield peak for processing sweet corn, and what plant population does it take to get there?
The answer is not that simple. Williams evaluated six widely used hybrids from Del Monte, Syngenta Seeds, and Crookham Company. The hybrids were planted under a wide range of plant populations and growing conditions.
“We looked at relationships among different crop traits and found that increasing plant populations affected crop growth and development in plausible ways,” he said. “Increasing plant populations increased canopy density and light capture, delayed silk emergence, and reduced filled ear length and recovery.”
Recovery, or the percentage of ear mass that’s represented by kernel mass, was surprisingly varied and ranged between 32% to 38% among hybrids, he said. Higher recovery reduces processors’ costs because less volume of corn is handled.
Across all environments, plant populations to maximize yield differed by more than 9,000 plants per acre among the hybrids. 
The average plant population of the six hybrids — 23,500 plants per acre — would not be enough to maximize yield for some varieties, but would be too much for others, Williams said. None of the hybrids came close to optimal plant populations of field corn, which in recent reports from the upper Midwest, range from 32,000 to 35,000 plants per acre.
“The sweet corn hybrid itself has a major effect on profitability,” he said. “The gross profit margin to processors varied $1,500 an acre among hybrids. If I were growing sweet corn under contract, I’d want to know the hybrid, since profit to the grower varied as much $211 per acre among the varieties we tested.” 
One of the challenges Williams noted was that the top-performing hybrids looked nothing alike, nor was it clear exactly why they had better stress tolerance to higher populations. More research is needed to provide sweet corn breeders with this information.
“We compared these results to plant populations observed in growers’ fields throughout Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin,” Williams said. “We found evidence that higher profit, to growers and processors alike, is possible with greater plant populations of certain hybrids.”
This study, “Agronomics and economics of plant population density on processing sweet corn,” was funded by USDA-ARS and published in Field Crops Research. 

Although it’s a common practice to study plant populations in field corn, University of Illinois associate professor of crop sciences and USDA-ARS ecologist Marty Williams, said almost no research exists for determining the number of plants needed to optimize yield in processing sweet corn, which accounts for most of the U.S. sweet corn acreage.

“The only published results on this subject took place in the mid-1960s on the varieties Golden Cross Bantam and Jubilee,” Williams said. “Today those hybrids are 79 and 50 years old, respectively. The sweet corn industry, both growers and processors, needs relevant information on modern varieties to help them achieve maximum profits.”

The priorities of processing sweet corn are quite different than fresh-market sweet corn, he said.

“Unlike fresh-market sweet corn, ear size and appearance don’t really matter in processing sweet corn,” Williams said. “What’s important is how many cases of sweet corn are produced per acre.”

Because of this, fresh-market sweet corn research simply doesn’t apply since different hybrids are used and different traits are important. In 2009, the Midwest Food Processors Association asked Williams to conduct research on the relationship between plant populations and profitability in processing sweet corn. 

So where does yield peak for processing sweet corn, and what plant population does it take to get there?

The answer is not that simple. Williams evaluated six widely used hybrids from Del Monte, Syngenta Seeds, and Crookham Company. The hybrids were planted under a wide range of plant populations and growing conditions.

“We looked at relationships among different crop traits and found that increasing plant populations affected crop growth and development in plausible ways,” he said. “Increasing plant populations increased canopy density and light capture, delayed silk emergence, and reduced filled ear length and recovery.”

Recovery, or the percentage of ear mass that’s represented by kernel mass, was surprisingly varied and ranged between 32% to 38% among hybrids, he said. Higher recovery reduces processors’ costs because less volume of corn is handled.

Across all environments, plant populations to maximize yield differed by more than 9,000 plants per acre among the hybrids. 

The average plant population of the six hybrids — 23,500 plants per acre — would not be enough to maximize yield for some varieties, but would be too much for others, Williams said. None of the hybrids came close to optimal plant populations of field corn, which in recent reports from the upper Midwest, range from 32,000 to 35,000 plants per acre.

“The sweet corn hybrid itself has a major effect on profitability,” he said. “The gross profit margin to processors varied $1,500 an acre among hybrids. If I were growing sweet corn under contract, I’d want to know the hybrid, since profit to the grower varied as much $211 per acre among the varieties we tested.” 

One of the challenges Williams noted was that the top-performing hybrids looked nothing alike, nor was it clear exactly why they had better stress tolerance to higher populations. More research is needed to provide sweet corn breeders with this information.

“We compared these results to plant populations observed in growers’ fields throughout Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin,” Williams said. “We found evidence that higher profit, to growers and processors alike, is possible with greater plant populations of certain hybrids.”

This study, “Agronomics and economics of plant population density on processing sweet corn,” was funded by USDA-ARS and published in Field Crops Research. 

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Choosing The Right Sweet Corn Hybrids

Featured Stories
Fruits
February 27, 2017
Warm February Concerning, But Fruit Growers Shouldn’t Panic
While maps produced by the U.S. Geological Survey do show spring appears to be arriving early, Extension experts don’t expect a repeat of 2012. Read More
Nuts
February 27, 2017
Using Drones To Scout Almonds From Above
At California State University, Fresno, scientists are studying how drones can save almond growers water — and help them use less labor too. Read More
UF/IFAS researcher Cristina Pisani examines ailing avocado tree
Crop Protection
February 27, 2017
New Discovery Smells Like Victory for Florida Avocado Growers
Scientists find naturally occurring repellent that could keep disease-carrying beetles at bay. Read More
Mycelial fans armillaria root rot
Nuts
February 27, 2017
Getting to the Root of Devastating Stone Fruit Fungus
Armillaria root rot is a death sentence for trees and replant sites; however, researchers are looking to breed fungus-resistant rootstocks to make replanting economically feasible. Read More
Berries
February 26, 2017
Advantages to Growing Southern Highbush Blueberries
Growers in some regions where temperatures don’t get too low could consider the benefits of Southern highbush varieties. Read More
Grapes
February 26, 2017
Winegrowers See Total Sustainability in Their Sights
Sonoma County Winegrowers eyes 2019 to become the U.S.’s first completely sustainable wine region. Read More
Fruits
February 25, 2017
Let’s Stand Up for Science
Yes, there’s an art to agriculture, but its very definition is the science of farming, so you have a deeply rooted connection to scientists. Read More
Florida citrus grove
Citrus
February 25, 2017
Citrus Research Investments Yielding Positive Results
Despite still having mounds of wood to chop, grower, federal, and state programs collectively are making a dent. Read More
Fruits
February 25, 2017
Major Challenges to the Fruit Industry Are Closer than You Think
Don’t underestimate the need for research, as innovation is becoming an urgent necessity for our future. Read More
iphone close-up
GenNext Growers
February 24, 2017
New Mobile Apps for Farmers to Grow on the Go
Thanks to the latest in software technology, real-time decisions can be made with one swipe of your finger. Read More
The Latest
Fruits
February 27, 2017
Warm February Concerning, But Fruit Grow…
While maps produced by the U.S. Geological Survey do show spring appears to be arriving early, Extension experts don’t expect a repeat of 2012. Read More
Nuts
February 27, 2017
Using Drones To Scout Almonds From Above
At California State University, Fresno, scientists are studying how drones can save almond growers water — and help them use less labor too. Read More
Crop Protection
February 27, 2017
New Discovery Smells Like Victory for Fl…
Scientists find naturally occurring repellent that could keep disease-carrying beetles at bay. Read More
Nuts
February 27, 2017
Getting to the Root of Devastating Stone…
Armillaria root rot is a death sentence for trees and replant sites; however, researchers are looking to breed fungus-resistant rootstocks to make replanting economically feasible. Read More
Berries
February 26, 2017
Advantages to Growing Southern Highbush …
Growers in some regions where temperatures don’t get too low could consider the benefits of Southern highbush varieties. Read More
Grapes
February 26, 2017
Winegrowers See Total Sustainability in …
Sonoma County Winegrowers eyes 2019 to become the U.S.’s first completely sustainable wine region. Read More
Fruits
February 25, 2017
Let’s Stand Up for Science
Yes, there’s an art to agriculture, but its very definition is the science of farming, so you have a deeply rooted connection to scientists. Read More
Citrus
February 25, 2017
Citrus Research Investments Yielding Pos…
Despite still having mounds of wood to chop, grower, federal, and state programs collectively are making a dent. Read More
Fruits
February 25, 2017
Major Challenges to the Fruit Industry A…
Don’t underestimate the need for research, as innovation is becoming an urgent necessity for our future. Read More
GenNext Growers
February 24, 2017
New Mobile Apps for Farmers to Grow on t…
Thanks to the latest in software technology, real-time decisions can be made with one swipe of your finger. Read More
GenNext Growers
February 24, 2017
In-The-Field Learning Invaluable for Gen…
Annual tour allows Florida's future farming leaders the chance to have open and honest discussions with CEOs and managers and tap into their knowledge. Read More
Grower Achievement Award
February 24, 2017
Know a Vegetable Grower Who’s Innovative…
Then nomination him or her for American Vegetable Grower magazine’s 2017 Grower Achievement Award. Read More
Apples & Pears
February 24, 2017
Don’t Underestimate the Importance…
Trellising study helps growers understand the basics of setting up an orchard infrastructure properly. Read More
Berries
February 23, 2017
Primocane: A Major Innovation in Berry P…
I’ve witnessed the rise of primocane-fruiting blackberries, from first selections to integration in the market. Read More
Fruits
February 23, 2017
First California Ag Innovation Showcase …
University of California, Davis will be the setting for a ground-breaking conference on emerging technology for food and high-value agriculture. Read More
Disease Control
February 23, 2017
Spot Sclerotinia Before It Stops Your Ve…
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this malady that goes by many names. Read More
Berries
February 22, 2017
Florida Strawberry Picking Contest a Big…
Fourth-annual fundraising event brings in more than $100,000 to benefit children of local farmworkers. Read More
Citrus
February 22, 2017
New Insecticide Available to Combat Suck…
Minecto Pro from Syngenta has received EPA approval for use in specialty and vegetable crops to control lepidopteran and other pests. Read More