Sweet Corn 2020

About the cover: Sweet corn is identified by its unusual tassel. It makes up just 1 percent of Minnesota’s planted corn crop each year. Minnesota ranks first in harvested acres, but generally second in total production, behind Washington State. Photo by Andrea Johnson.

Rumbling down Minnesota’s highways are massive trucks holding ears of picked sweet corn. As quickly as possible, the corn is brought to food plants for processing and freezing or canning. Sweet corn is used in many recipes – from salsas, to soups, to tacos and casseroles.

Sales have been very good for canned and frozen sweet corn, said Lakeside Foods General Manager Wayne Simpson, Brooten, Minn. Lakeside Foods has headquarters in Manitowoc, Wis., with plants in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The 2020 sweet corn processing in Brooten started on July 30, well ahead of last year’s Aug. 10 start date at the Stearns County plant.

The quality is good, and the yields are better than average, he said.

“We’re running 8-9 tons an acre,” Simpson said. “We budget 7.5 tons per acre.”

Just 1 percent of the corn raised in the U.S. is sweet corn, which is bred to have large, juicy kernels that include a high level of natural sugar.

From 2016-19, Minnesota ranked first in sweet corn acres harvested, but Washington State is the champion when it comes to corn production.

Of Minnesota’s 7.26 million corn acres harvested in 2019, just 99,100 acres were harvested for sweet corn. Average yield per acre was 14,000 pounds or about 7 tons per acre.

In 2019, Washington harvested fewer acres – 75,000 acres – but harvested 21,000 pounds or about 10.5 tons per acre. Last year, U.S. sweet corn production measured in dollars was valued at $652 million. For Washington, the crop was valued at $85.8 million. For Minnesota, the crop measured $50.4 million in value.

Wisconsin comes in third with generally higher production per acre than Minnesota, but fewer harvested acres. In 2019, Wisconsin’s sweet corn crop was valued at $33.47 million.

Interestingly, 2019 marked the lowest value for U.S. sweet corn ($652 million) of the last four years. Sweet corn value in 2018 was $864 million; 2017 was $892 million, and 2016 was $870 million, according to Minnesota Ag Statistics.

Minnesota’s 2019 valued crop at $50.4 million was below average with the 2018 sweet corn crop valued at $82 million, 2017 at $79 million and 2016 at $73.6 million.

Processing facilities request that Minnesota farmers plant their sweet corn fields at specific times to even out plant processing. In early August, the latest planted sweet corn fields had not yet tasseled, but with warm temperatures and adequate rainfall, the corn will grow quickly to produce the sweet treat for consumers.