Revised, May, 2015
Sweet corn is a genetic mutation of field corn and was reportedly first grown in Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s. The naturally-occurring genetic mutation causes kernels to store more sugar than field corn. The first commercial variety was introduced in 1779.
Sweet corn is produced for the fresh, frozen and canned markets. Sweet corn consumption peaked at 29 pounds per person in 1996 but has experienced a gradual decline since then to 21.3 pounds per person in 2014. Of this amount, 7.9 pounds were fresh, 7.7 pounds were frozen, and 5.8 pounds were canned (USDA ERS 2014). Today, in terms of pound per person, sweet corn, fresh, canned, and frozen combined, ranks fourth in most consumed vegetable in the United States.
The fresh market accounts for nearly 70 percent of the value of the sweet corn crop. Total fresh market sweet corn production in 2013 was nearly 1.49 million tons with a total value of over $842.3 million (NASS 2013).
Direct market opportunities for fresh sweet corn is highly seasonal and vary by region and production capabilities. These are typically in-season, point-of-sale markets either at on-farm stands, farmers’ markets or direct delivery to retailers. Processing sweet corn is often marketed through the use of contracts that are generally offered through a variety of brokers.
Sweet corn production is based on continuous harvest in both fresh market and processing areas with multiple planting dates throughout the season. It grows best when daytime temperatures range from 75 to 86o F and a continuous supply of moisture.
According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, sweet corn was harvested on over 25,000 farms and in all 50 states. Florida, California and Georgia are the largest producers of fresh sweet corn. The production of sweet corn for processing is heavily concentrated in the upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, where Minnesota, Washington and Wisconsin are the leading producers. Yields average between 4 to 6 tons per acre.
In terms of production and value, sweet corn is the second largest processing crop, surpassed only by tomatoes. Processing sweet corn production (both frozen and canned) in 2013 totaled nearly 2.6 million tons with a crop value of $373.1 million.
The 2013 seasonal average U.S. prices were $29.80 per cwt. with prices varying throughout the year.
Based on most recent production and price averages, the estimated gross value per acre is approximately $3,400. Production costs vary depending on production location and the size of the farming operation.
Sweet Corn Enterprise Budget
National Retail Report: Fruits and Vegetables: Weekly Advertised Prices for Fruits and Vegetables at Major Retail Supermarket Outlets
2012 Census of Agriculture (2012)
USDA ERS: Vegetable ad Pulses Data (2015)
USDA NASS: Vegetables Summary (2013)
Sweet Corn Production in Florida