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By Ray Hansen, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The total value of the 2016 sweet corn crop was nearly $9 million. Of that amount, 74 percent was produced for the fresh market and 26 percent for the processing market. Processing sweet corn production (both frozen and canned) in 2015 totaled 2.5 million tons with a crop value of $255.5 million (NASS 2017).
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. To capture maximum sweetness, sweet corn is harvested before it fully matures while sugar content is still high. (ERS 2007)
“Supersweet” hybrid varieties have been developed over the past 25 years. These genetic advances have improved the quality of both fresh and processed products. Supersweet varieties offer longer shelf life, extended marketing windows and the delivery of higher-quality products throughout the year. (ERS 2007)
Sweet corn is produced for the fresh, frozen and canned markets. The fresh market accounts for nearly 74 percent of the value of the sweet corn crop.
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 2015 totaled 2.5 million tons with a crop value of $255.5 million. (NASS 2017)
Sweet corn is harvested on over 28,000 farms and in all 50 states. Florida, California, Washington, New York and Georigia are the largest producers of sweet corn. The production of sweet corn for processing is heavily concentrated in the upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. Minnesota, Washington and Wisconsin are the leading producers.
Fresh sweet corn is typically sold in daily spot markets and is highly seasonal. However, processing sweet corn is often marketed through the use of contracts that are generally offered through a variety of brokers. Processing plants often produce both branded and private-labeled products. As is the case with many agribusiness sectors, consolidations and mergers have provided much fluidity to ownership structures. However, Seneca Foods is one of the major frozen vegetable (including sweet corn) processing companies, with ten facilities in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Though most wait to harvest full grown sweet corn, a small market does exist for the fully edible unhusked baby corn.
Direct market opportunities 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.
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Enterprise Budget for Vegetables, Iowa State University Farm Food and Enterprise Development
National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), 2017
Global Agricultural Trade System, Foreign Ag Service, USDA.
Sweet Corn, 2007 Census of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.
Sweet Corn for Processing, Vegetables and Melons Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2007.
U.S. Sweet Corn Statistics, ERS, USDA, 2010.
Vegetables, 2012 Summary, NASS, USDA. 2013.
Vegetables and Melons Outlook, ERS, USDA.
Vegetables and Melons Yearbook, ERS, USDA.
Revised February, 2019.