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New Crops News, Spring 1993, vol. 3 no. 1

New Opportunities for SH-2 Sweet Corn

Indiana producers are expanding production for shipping trim and tray packed sweet corn for direct-to-retail markets throughout Indiana and the East North Central Region of the U.S. Retail buyers, including Kroger, Marsh, O'Malia's, and Caito Foods, are significant new market outlets for this "new product" for Indiana fresh market vegetable producers.

Prior to research and market development assistance provided through the New Crops Center, no trim and tray packed sweet corn operations existed in Indiana. Studies conducted by Glenn Sullivan, New Crops Center economist, found that, while sweet corn production statewide has declined over the last two decades, changing consumer lifestyles were creating significant new market opportunities for growers who would commit to providing value-added marketing services. Findings indicated that the key to significant industry expansion in the future was in providing and maintaining improved product quality through the marketing services demanded by the "new consumer." These marketing services included: hydrocooling to preserve the natural flavors at peak maturity, trim and tray packing with cellophane over-wrap for improved retail presentation, and quality assured shipping from the farm to retail store.

In 1992, collaborating growers throughout Indiana produced about 200 acres of enhanced-sweet (SH-2) fresh market sweet corn varieties for "value-added processing" and shipment to retail test markets. The New Crops Center assisted these growers in establishing the programs needed to meet retail buyer delivery specifications. Participating retail buyers were enthused with the 1992 program results and have proceeded to increase volume commitments with growers for 1993. Current studies indicate that Indiana growers can expand fresh market sweet corn production by over 5,000 acres with strategies that focus on value-added marketing services and direct sales to retail buying institutions. This level of market development would generate increased grower revenues exceeding $25 million annually statewide.

In addition to the significant value-added revenue benefits accruing from this new crop/marketing strategy, Indiana growers can also realize highly achievable production diversification benefits. Because sweet corn production parallels current recommended management practices for producing field corn and other agronomic crops common to Indiana, fresh market expansion strategies represent a highly feasible crop diversification opportunity for farming enterprises not currently engaged in horticultural specialty crop production. This is an unusual opportunity because most horticultural specialty crop production programs are vastly more capital and management intensive than those for agronomic crops. Thus, value-added fresh market sweet corn offers new crop diversification opportunities for traditional farming enterprises that are fully achievable with existing production and economic resources.