With early indicators suggesting a lively market for sweet corn, Gilroy, Calif.-based Uesugi Farms is planting 600 acres, nearly doubling last year’s total.
It’s been standard practice in recent years for the grower-shipper to seek out more ground annually for its crops, and production is expected to rise as well on bell peppers, napa cabbage and strawberries. But for co-owner Pete Aiello, sweet corn also represents a bet on where the market could go this summer.
That’s due to California’s water shortage, which is affecting Central Valley crops — like sweet corn — more than coastal operations in and around the Salinas Valley and Santa Maria, which focus on other items.
“We’ve been trying to do research to find out what the competition is up to,” Aiello said. “We get different answers, from a little to a lot, but the consensus is that corn acreage will probably go down. I expect the market to be somewhat healthy this year. But we never know for sure until we start selling it.”
Uesugi Farms will start producing its Gilroy sweet corn in mid- to late-July after kicking off the season for six to eight weeks in Brentwood. Confirmation of a shortage and its extent will take time to establish, but Aiello’s expectation is not unique.
“Sweet corn is an item that retailers are going to have a hard time featuring this summer because there’s not going to be the large production acreage of corn,” said Atomic Torosian, managing partner in Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Produce LLC.
“There will be pockets of small local deals up in Sacramento and Brentwood and a small deal out of the Westside, but not enough to feature corn at red-hot pricing,” Torosian said in late March. “Local deals will still be in play but not the big commercial deals just because water is going to be so tight.”
Increased plantings of sweet corn are one of the reasons why Uesugi Farms — which started icing vegetables at its Gilroy facility last year — this year is purchasing equipment instead of renting it.
“We’re investing in our own icing operation,” Aiello said. “Whenever you spend a lot of money on something, you want to run as many units through it as you can. The corn demand was really good last year, markets were good.
“We figure we can spread the cost out over a lot more units and profit more if the market prices are even better this year, as we think they will be.”