In an industry struggling to maintain profitability, it’s curious that U.S. processing sweet corn – the corn that ends up in cans and freezer bags – is falling so far below its potential.
In an industry struggling to maintain profitability, it’s curious that U.S. processing sweet corn – the corn that ends up in cans and freezer bags – is falling so far below its potential. Yet, that’s what a new study in PLOS One clearly demonstrates.
According to Martin Williams, an ecologist with USDA-ARS and associate professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois, processing sweet corn in the Midwest is grown at an average population of 24,000 plants per acre. But through years of small-plot field trials, his team has shown that certain hybrids are naturally density tolerant, and their performance improves when planted at higher population sizes. His research also indicated that increasing populations of density-tolerant hybrids improved profit to both contract growers and vegetable processors.
The results were promising, but it wasn’t clear how well small-plot trials in Central Illinois translated to farmers’ fields throughout the Midwest.
”While processors were aware of our early work in small-plot field trials, some – myself included – were skeptical about the extent to which the industry could increase efficiency by adjusting plant population size,“ says Williams, co-author of the PLOS One study. “I decided to move the research into the very fields where processing sweet corn is grown.”
Image: Scientists from the University of Illinois and USDA ARS did on-farm trials over five years to show some types of sweet corn are underperforming at current planting densities. Growers, processors could profit at higher densities. (Credit: Martin Williams, USDA ARS and University of Illinois)