Monday, 27 July 2020 11:25

The corn season - the yearly pattern

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Every corn season follows the same pattern: I go out and plant corn as early as possible in April. Weather is just turning from winter to spring and the ground and temperatures are still cold. I try to wait until I am convinced that spring is really here, not just a lone day over 70 degrees but the pressure to do things as early as possible is real and there is no crystal ball to know if your guess is correct. Depending on what happens next determines the course for the first 3 plantings of sweet corn (3 different varieties of differing maturities are planted on the same day): If it warms up the corn comes up well and we will have a decent stand and hope for an early start to the season. If spring retreats and wet cold conditions return for a while, the seed doesn't emerge well (or at all). Sweet corn seed is not like field corn. It is not hearty and tolerant to cold wet soil, it will rot. Spring eventually gets here, weather becomes warm and agreeable and more plantings are made during those conditions.

Fast forward to the beginning of corn season. The weather temperatures from 3 months ago, whatever they may have been, are a distant memory. The corn we have in those first 3 or 4 plantings is what we will be starting out with. More times than not, we have a thin uneven stand to try to navigate picking in the best way possible. It is a fine line to walk because of the wide range of maturity. This is due to plants emerging at different times instead of all at once. Some ears are ready, some are WAY too young. If we start too soon picking just the ready ears, the amount of corn we get from a planting will be super low. If we wait too long, more of the younger ears will be ready but the others may be too mature. So we try to strike the right balance of waiting and then hitting it hard. Kind of like driving up to an intersection at full speed and slamming on the brakes at just the right time so you can get stopped at the stop sign.

Once we get through the first three or four plantings, we begin to get into corn planted and grown in more favorable conditions. The stand and emergence is much better and the yield goes up appreciably. We end up with much more corn to sell and the quality is better as well. It seems an eternity to get to this phase, even though it is only a couple of weeks. Those first couple of weeks are filled with crazy demand, selling out early, not all stands being open and maybe even a few days off. The later the start date and skimpier the initial harvest, the more nervous the customers get. People look at the calendar, realize how late it is and see how little you are at your stands. Thoughts of missing out getting corn in the freezer seem pretty real. So they gobble up corn at astounding rates which only compounds the “selling out early” problem. We do our best to assure everyone that we will indeed have an abundance, just not yet.  Combine that with several large orders for the normal early season "events" and the supply is woefully short to do all the things people want to do with sweet corn.

 Eventually we get into our main season corn which is great and plentiful. This is when we are able to offer our “freezer specials” and begin to be at our stands until 5. Hopefully we have talked most of you into waiting for this phase to fill your freezers. And then so begins the rest of a long season. We will have corn all through August and September and will see literally tons of the prettiest corn loaded on our trailers that hopefully gets taken home. The urgency and worry of corn availability wears off as people begin to see us at our stands every day until 5. We may even begin to throw away corn that didn't get sold that day. When that happens, one can't but think back to the beginning of the season and lament not having this corn back then. Matching supply with the demand of a product that has zero shelf life is the single biggest challenge of our business. But so it goes....the predictable pattern I spoke about at the top of the page.

We expect this upcoming week to be about the last of the unevenly emerged “first planting” corn that doesn't yield well. The following patch looks much better and as each successive patch comes on, it will be even better. Hang in there, eventually there will be corn running out of our “ears”.



Read 9411 times Last modified on Monday, 27 July 2020 11:31
Toby Brown

Toby is the owner of Lingley Bros. Sweetcorn since 2000. A 1989 graduate of Hoopeston East-Lynn High School, he began farming in 1993, the sixth generation farming the ground he lives on. He and his wife Paige have four children:  Jenna, Katie, Josh and Megan. Together they raise 48 acres of sweet corn, 900 tomatoes and a half acre of green beans. In addition to farming, Toby is an Elder at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Hoopeston, an officer on the Rossville Area Fire Department, assistant 4-H leader of Hoopeston Boosters 4-H club and a beekeeper.

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