Crop Outlook: Sweet Corn

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Sweet corn is harvested in all 50 states on more than 28,000 farms, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, and 2009 was a good year as far as yields go, says Jonathan Schultheis, Extension horticultural specialist at North Carolina State University.

Cool weather in some sweet corn-producing states did slow crop maturity, but conditions in both the Midwest and Pacific Northwest were favorable in 2009. Yields are expected to increase 5% to a record 8.22 tons per acre, USDA reports, meaning both canned and frozen sweet corn is expected to be higher than 2008. Prices, however, are expected to decline.

Schultheis says the shaky economy did not appear to have an effect on the sweet corn market in 2009, with sales doing well all the way into August. He adds that he doesn’t expect the economy to have much of an impact in 2010, either, as he doesn’t anticipate any new, large producers entering the market.
The biggest challenge across the board, he says, is insect control, especially corn earworm. Eric Natwick, entomology advisor for Imperial County Cooperative Extension, agrees, noting that worm control definitely was an issue this past spring. “We always have problems with corn earworm. That’s just a given,” he says. “That’s why we have to spray sweet corn so much — about every two to three days starting before the silks emerge until they’re completely brown and dried out, or you’ll get worms in the ears, and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Trends Shaping The Market

For sweet corn, consumer preference obviously plays a huge part in determining what to grow. In 2008, Americans consumed an average of 9.2 pounds of fresh sweet corn per person and 24 pounds per person overall, according to USDA reports. Schultheis says one of the biggest trends right now focuses on color. “The best kernel color seems to be moving more towards white rather than bicolor or yellow,” he says.

The sweeter the better, too. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, supersweet varieties introduced over the last 25 years have been responsible for the increases in sweet corn consumption. In addition, supersweet varieties have increased shelflife, also extending the marketing window.

Ann-Marie Vazzano was managing editor of American Fruit Grower magazine, a Meister publication.

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