By Walt Frank
Sweet corn lovers have had to wait a little longer than usual this year to enjoy the locally grown ears.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Owner Bob Baronner checks out the progress of a field of sweet corn that was the first planted this year. The corn will be sold at Baronner’s Farm Market in Hollidaysburg.
Sweet corn is running about two to three weeks later than normal due to cooler than normal spring weather, said Thomas G. Ford, Penn State Extension commercial horticulture educator.
"Cool spring weather coupled with untimely spring rains delayed planting and field preparations. We can expect our first local sweet corn for sale around July 12 as compared to June 26 in most years," Ford said.
Baronner's Farm Market in Hollidaysburg was hoping to have sweet corn for sale as early as this week, said co-owner Kelly Baronner.
"Typically, corn was planted on open ground and was ready around July 20. Now it is planted on biodegradable plastic. With technology, it is in the ground earlier, and we should have early corn around the 8th or so. Last year, we had it before the Fourth of July," Baronner said.
Baronner's was able to get its corn planted ahead of time and did not experience flooding in its cornfields in mid-June as rumored, Baronner said.
Baronner said the price will remain the same as last year, $6 a dozen.
Meanwhile, Sam Weyant doesn't expect to have sweet corn ready before July 15.
"I didn't plant on plastic this year. I usually do that, and it gives you a two-week jump. I just planted on bare ground. Everything is so expensive any more. When the price of fuel goes up, anything made with plastic goes up," said Weyant, owner of Sam Weyant Berry and Vegetable Farms, Claysburg.
Weyant said the weather had a big impact.
"It was the weather, the cold wet weather in the spring. We just couldn't get into the fields when we wanted to. Until the soil gets to 60 degrees, it won't do anything. It just seems like we are a month behind with the weather," Weyant said. "Everything depends on the heating elements. Corn grows best in hot, muggy weather, and you need warm nights."
Weyant said his prices likely will be higher this year.
"Prices will be higher because of the cost of fertilizer, fuel and chemicals. Everything is up 25 to 35 percent. We sell most of our corn to McAneny Brothers in Ebensburg. Prices will have to be up if we are to stay in business. Wholesale cost will be about $3 to $3.50 a dozen while stores are likely to sell it for $4.50 to $5 to make any money," Weyant said.
Meanwhile, Ford said statewide, sweet corn acreage has dropped over the years. According to the federal National Agricultural Statistics Service, 20,609 acres of sweet corn were planted in Pennsylvania in 2000 with the number dropping to 15,000 acres in 2012.
"We are seeing a drop in sweet corn acreage due to farm labor shortages, farmer retirements and food safety regulations. As farmers exit, we see fewer new entrants into the sweet corn market," Ford said.
However, sweet corn continues to make up a significant part of Pennsylvania's $6.8 billion in cash receipts for fresh produce. According to NASS, the value of sweet corn produced in 2012 was over $40 million.
Meanwhile, Ford said he is not seeing anything impacting local vegetable crops other than the weather.
"We have had no reports of late blight in tomatoes, potatoes or downy mildew in cucurbits (cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, watermelon, and gourds)," Ford said.
However, the report on the local fruit crop is not as good.
"Most peach blossoms were killed by our winter temperatures. We should not see any local peaches this year," Ford said.
Bridenbaugh Orchards in Martinsburg had its peach crop wiped out by bitter cold temperatures in January.
"Our orchard sits on higher ground and usually isn't affected, but it got as low as 14 below in January. We lost the buds; they just fell off. In the past, we have froze out in the spring but only lost certain varieties," said Gail Bridenbaugh, manager of Bridenbaugh Farm Market. "It was a big part of our business. Apples are our biggest crop, but it is a chunk. It will slow down our market business. We may try and bring in some from the southern counties to sell at the market. They would be fresh eating peaches, not for canning."
"We are seeing the same thing due to January's subzero temperatures. Peaches don't like anything below zero. We had three or four nights of 10 below. We have three blocks of peaches, and we lost two of the blocks, about two-thirds of our peach crop," said Matt Boyer, general partner at Boyer's Orchard, New Paris.
Meanwhile, other fruit crops look good.
"Apples are our bread and butter. We have 300 acres of apples, and they really look good," Boyer said.
"Our apple crop looks good, but one hail storm can change that in a few minutes. Our strawberry crop looks good, though heavy rains can increase the severity of the disease gray mold," Ford said.