HERSHEY, Pa. — Nothing says summer to consumers like sweet corn from a farm stand.
Nothing says winter to a farmer like sorting through the corn varieties to find one that will have the sweetness and shape consumers crave.
“There’s a lot of good corns out here,” Tim Elkner, a Penn State Extension educator, said.
Elkner and his Extension colleagues presented results from their 2012-13 sweet corn trials on Jan. 30 at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention.
The researchers assessed 24 cultivars, including several genetically modified, or GMO, varieties.
The tests emphasized bicolor varieties because of that coloration’s popularity around the state, though Elkner said his part of the state, Lancaster County, is “white corn country.”
The researchers compared the varieties against Temptation, a popular “workhorse variety,” Tom Butzler, a Clinton County educator, said.
The varieties were planted between May 21 and June 6 at Penn State’s Rock Springs and Landisville research farms, and at producer farms in western Pennsylvania.
The plants were spaced 8 to 10 inches apart in the rows with 30 to 38 inches between rows, based on the practices used, Butzler said.
Most varieties performed similarly to Temptation in most tests, he said.
Temptation produced primary ears about 2 feet from the ground, with many of the varieties around that height. Synergy and Paydirt produced ears closer to the ground.
“You had to stoop down pretty far” to pick Paydirt, Butzler said.
Most ears were reasonably easy to pick, a help to farmers hand-picking a large amount of sweet corn. BC 0805, a GMO variety, and Captivate were more difficult to pull off the stalk in some trials.
“I’m not saying you had to go out there with an ax, but it took a little more to twist them off,” Butzler said.
The varieties mostly had similar yields. Edelweiss and Providence topped Temptation in the Rock Springs trials, and only Paydirt noticeably underperformed Temptation, he said.
The appearance of the ear is also important to consumers, said Lee Stivers, a Washington County educator.
Research has shown that customers prefer an 8- to 9-inch ear; a dark green husk; a long, dark flag leaf; and 16 straight rows of substantial kernels.
Corn looks best to consumers if the kernels fill the husk but do not protrude from it, Stivers said.
“Basically, they mostly looked good,” she said. “We’re getting good tip fill.”
Mattapoisett grew 19 rows instead of 16 at one site. While that size is nice, “I’m not sure consumers are really counting rows,” Stivers said.
The early varieties Cuppa Joe and Profit tended to have smaller ears than Temptation, which is a good early corn, Elkner, the Lancaster educator, said.
In all varieties, the ears were completely covered, he said.
The team used Brix degrees to measure sweetness. The researchers turned to testing kernel juice in a refractometer after an abortive experiment with taste testing, Elkner said.
“You could taste the difference in sweetness,” he said, but none of the researchers could agree on which flavor they liked more. The varieties all started to taste the same after a while, too.
The Brix range was not huge, with Temptation at 16 degrees Brix and the varieties between 13 and 18.
The Brix test was conducted only during the 2013 season, and Elkner said he is not ready to make great claims based on one year’s worth of data.
“Everything looked good,” Elkner said. “If they cook it and it eats well, (what will) stop (customers) from buying it again?”
Elkner offered a few comments on specific varieties.
Temptation and Temptation II, its glyphosate-resistant cousin, looked the same. “Certainly from a management perspective it would make your life easier” to use the GMO Temptation II, Elkner said. That decision may depend on customers’ comfort with GMOs.
On Allure: “A grower said it was a keeper,” an enviable endorsement, he said.
SV 9014 was creamier than most, he said.
On Paydirt: “It ate better, but it didn’t perform well.”
Captivate might be a little better than Whiteout in white corn varieties, he said.
The trial report can be found at bit.ly/Lancaster-Farming-222.