(July 2) CESSNA PARK, Ill. — Dan Hinkle is taking this thinking outside the box thing to a different level.

Because in Cessna Park — despite a possible gap in production as the sweet corn deal shifs from southern Georgia to the Midwest — Hinkle is preparing to introduce a new line of container that features cartoon kids eating corn on the cob, proving it matters not just what's in the box, but what's on the outside as well.

"For too long, we in the industry have felt that our competition was the other growers," said Hinkle, owner of Hinkle Produce. "But our real competition is the box of cereal and the canned goods, the meat and the milk. And we need to do something that targets the shoppers of tomorrow."

With that in mind, Hinkle has launched a corrugated common footprint box with the hope that it will be a promotion in itself.

But, alas, he will have to wait a while.

As the Midwest sweet corn deal readies for a late July start, buyers could see a gap in production as the area begins harvest far later than normal, shippers say.

Late spring frost is the primary culprit, said Steve Haaksma, salesman at E. Miedema & Sons Inc., Byron Center, Mich., where harvest should begin July 24, almost two weeks off. E. Miedema usually runs through September but could finish in early October, Haaksma said.

"Our first planting was nipped by the frost in the five-leaf stage," Haaksma said. "It burned them right down to the ground. Most of them did come back, but now our first and second plantings are equally big. So we should have a lot of it (sweet corn)."

Likewise in Willard, Ohio, where Mike Buurma, vice president of Buurma Farms Inc., said he expects the Ohio deal to start Aug. 1. Typically, Buurma, whose firm lost three plantings of yellow and white corn, looks to harvest a few days after the Independence Day holiday.

"The crop looks good, but it is extremely short," he said. "There's less volume due to the simple fact that we don't have as many acres in the ground.

"There might be a big gap for a few weeks, and I don't know if Tennessee and Kentucky are going to be able to fill it in."

Knowing that, prices could remain at the levels they are now when the deal finally gets rolling, Haaksma said.

In early July, Georgia f.o.b.s for wirebound crates of 4 dozen yellow, white and bicolor were $7, down slightly from early June's prices, which called for $7-8, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Last year, f.o.b.s from Georgia rebounded from as low as $4.50 in mid-June to around $7 by early July, the USDA reported.

Haaksma said he thinks the deal will open around $7 and gradually fall to around $5 by August.

By then, Hinkle said, there "will be a lot of corn around," thanks to the later start.

Hinkle Produce, which normally expects to start the first week of July, figures to open July 17-18 with bicolor, with yellow and white corn following a few days later. The firm expects to have steady supplies through mid-September.

"Our last corn planting wasn’t until today, so we will probably run until about 10 days after Labor Day," Hinkle said, noting that he expects good quality.

After the Midwest deal, Hinkle said, the Northeast kicks in just in time for the Georgia deal to reappear.

The four states that comprise the bulk of the Midwest production, which makes up roughly 15% of the nation's total crop, netted a crop that totaled nearly $65 million last year. Ohio led the way with 15,400 acres, according to the USDA.