Sweet corn flourishing despite heat

Published 12:01 pm Saturday, July 9, 2022

Sweet corn flourishing despite heat

Sweet corn season is here, and despite persistent dry, hot weather, Virginia farmers are expecting a plentiful harvest.

“For a lot of people, there’s nothing better than fresh-picked sweet corn,” said Mike Cullipher, a Virginia Beach produce farmer.

“Whether you’re making it for a meal in the house or you’re having a cookout, it’s really hard to beat,” added Cullipher, who also serves on the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Specialty Crops Advisory Committee. “I think sweet corn also symbolizes summer because it’s really the only time it’s available.”

Primarily growing Kickoff, Nirvana and Rosie bicolor sweet corn varieties, he said his crop at Cullipher Farm largely is in good condition.

However, his farm had experienced unseasonably cool weather in May and excessive heat in June, causing him to lose some of his first planting. Despite the setback — and dry conditions he’s had to mitigate with irrigation — Cullipher said he’s still in good shape to harvest a quality crop.

“It’s going to be hit-and-miss whether we have enough to get through the (Fourth of July),” he said. “But after that, we should be smooth sailing right on through October.”

Kenneth Crews, who grows sugar-enhanced Incredible sweet corn at Crews Family Orchard in Pittsylvania County, also said he’s had to irrigate to alleviate heat stress on his crop.

Dry conditions aside, Crews noted his crop is “looking really good,” and anticipates his season continuing well into October.

Mike Parrish, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Dinwiddie County, said farmers in the area have contended with drought for most of the growing season.

According to National Agricultural Statistics Service crop reports for Virginia, the Richmond region was operating at a 3-inch rainfall deficit from normal following the week of June 19. Heavy rainfall during the week ending June 26 decreased the deficit to 1.9 inches.

“The corn looks pretty good for those farmers who’ve been able to irrigate,” Parrish said. “The early plantings suffered the most for those who couldn’t irrigate, but there will be corn coming.”

Parrish and Crews both agreed their respective areas could use about an inch of rain per week for the rest of the summer to help produce high-quality sweet corn.

For corn that’s already available at farmers markets and farm stands, Cullipher offered some advice to help shoppers find quality ears.

He said buyers should look for a husk that’s bright green and tightly wrapped around the cob, and should feel through the husk to be sure the cob has filled out from top to bottom.

Cullipher also recommended eating fresh corn within a few days, otherwise the sugar content in sweet corn can begin to convert to starch.