After a nice early growing season without major setbacks, Eastern U.S. sweet corn growers are optimistic about the coming crop as demand ticks up for the coming warm months and summer holidays.
Florida, the top sweet corn producer in early spring, shipped more volume as of March 9 than last year at the same time: 145.3 pounds, compared to 136 million pounds in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Nationwide, 259.8 million pounds of corn were shipped this season through March 9, which is 23.3 million fewer pounds at the same point last season, which was at 283.1 million.
“We checked our crop in Belle Glade, and it looks like a beautiful crop. We had great weather and expect it to continue. We had good volume, excellent supply,” said J.D. Poole, co-owner and vice president of Scotlynn Sweet Pac Growers, Belle Glade, Fla.
The company ships corn first out of Belle Glade, then Bainbridge, Ga., and finishes with Vittoria, Ontario.
“We’ve grown our acreage year over year — for years,” said Brian Biederman, another Scotlynn co-owner.
Belle Glade corn availability runs mid-March 18 to June 1.
“But volume changes could cause higher prices,” Poole said.
Scotlynn’s Georgia sweet corn will be harvested May 15 until July 15, and from Vittoria, availability runs from July 15 until Sept. 5.
Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, Fla., expects similar volumes as in recent years from its winter and spring corn seasons in South Florida, and then its short Georgia season to follow, said Bert Barnes, Duda’s sweet corn commodity manager.
After Duda’s Florida winter corn harvest runs out by the end of March, the spring corn will be available the first week of April through end of May, finished by Georgia’s quick harvest from late May to early June.
“The warm weather, combined with several rain events as of late, has brought on harvest roughly five days early,” Barnes said. “There will be a small dip in volume first week of harvest (early April), due to the rain events during planting, but we should return to normal volumes after that week.”
Duda has had higher volumes to sell because of that early maturing corn, Barnes said. The quality is looking good for the coming spring: a larger barrel size, longer length and dark green husk compared to earlier crops.
Turek Farms, King Ferry, N.Y., teamed up with Florida and Georgia growers from SM Jones and Co. to provide corn to customers year-round. Sales are handled by Cayuga Produce.
As harvest takes off in Florida, a good portion gets planted in Georgia, and Turek is 1 1/2 months from planting in New York, where the corn availability runs from mid-July through early October, said Jason Turek, co-owner.
“Right now, it looks like a good crop for the Southeast, and we’re excited,” Turek said.
Marketing sweet corn
In March, retailers start putting out big bulk displays and end caps of sweet corn, which does a lot to pick up sales.
The packaging matters too. While loose corn does better in summer and over-wrapped trays in winter, the trend is heading toward packaged corn year-round.
Packaged produce in general has grown to 53% of sales, and millennials in particular prefer packaged rather than pick-your-own produce, according to the 2019 Power of Produce report from the Food Marketing Institute.
At Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure March 9 in Orlando, Scotlynn Sweet Pac Growers debuted its redesigned overwrap packaging, which adds more color while still showing a lot of the corn itself. The corn is partially husked, and it qualifies a value-added product, Poole said.
“A lot of customers ask for the peeled-off window of husk showing the kernels but leaving the rest on for a bit of green color. The ends are clipped, so the husk easily comes off,” Scotlynn’s Poole said.
Duda Farm Fresh Foods completed a successful full year of offering its first 100% recyclable tray for sweet corn. The protective recyclable trays reduce shrink, protect the product through shipment and feature seasonal graphics, Barnes said.
However, marketers agree that weather affects consumer demand for sweet corn in a huge way.
“National weather patterns play a big role in product demand from the Northeast, Midwest and Canada,” Barnes said. “Once spring or warmer weather arrives, demand for sweet corn increases rapidly. Most people are ready to get out of the house and BBQ as the weather warms up — and sweet corn will be ready.”