Recent warmer weather in Florida is providing plenty of encouragement to sweet corn growers. While weather events in the last 6 months have not been too kind to Florida growers, things appear to be turning around now. For corn growers, there is the chance the warm weather might prompt an earlier start to the season.
"The warmer weather has provided excellent growing conditions," said Scott McDulin, of Schmieding Produce in Florida. "As a result, at this stage, the harvest looks like it will be brought forward by a week to 10 days. This means that there may be some sweet corn coming onto the market by mid-March, however our prediction is that we will have availability from early April. There was no frost damage from the cold snap a month ago, and the current warmer conditions will help quality and yield."
McDulin added that through careful crop management, the company will be working on ensuring any gaps that may arise will be minimal. "With the acceleration of the growing season, we've had to make adjustments to planting schedules," he said. "This is simply good farming practice that will ensure we don't get a gap in supply later."
Scott McDulin checks out the new crop of sweet corn
Demand dependent on northern Spring
While the corn is eager to meet the sun, it will be how early spring arrives that will determine when the market is ready for Florida corn. Sweet corn consumption tends to increase once warmer weather spreads its way into the northern part of the United States.
"Early demand, which has traditionally been strong, will depend on weather in the North of the country," McDulin explained. "Florida is the first state in the country to supply the domestic market, and demand rises in step with temperatures. Once Spring establishes itself, demand rises, as people are eager to get into summer recipes, as well as grilling."
Varieties doing well in Florida
Schmieding have a number of sweet corn varieties available, namely yellow, white and a bi-color combination of yellow and white. "We grow two of the Seminis varieties, Obsession and Passion," McDulin said. "These particular varieties do very well in Florida as they seem to be well adapted to the soil and climate. The majority of the sweet corn we grow is bi-color, with the remainder being yellow for those that prefer that variety. We also have white available from a partner grower. The bi-color has yellow and white kernels and tastes excellent. We see fantastic BRIX and really good eating quality. Different parts of the country tend to prefer different varieties."
McDulin also noted that the demand for tray packs continues to rise. These ready to cook products are popular among both retail customers as well as foodservice companies. "We will continue to see more corn tray packs," he said. "This is where the corn is de-husked, cut and clipped, and then put in packages of 4 or 6. They are also in high demand for retail customers as well as home delivery companies."
Transport, labor impacts will be a factor
While growing conditions have been favorable, and consumer demand is strong, transportation continues to be a potential obstacle for growers. Labor is also tightening as the growing economy begins to draw on these resources.
"We continue to see very high freight rates to other parts of the country," explained McDulin. "The driver shortage is stemming from the strong economy. Drivers are able to find jobs closer to home and avoid the need to drive long distances. Transportation and logistics will continue to be a challenge as we move forward with the season."
"The labor market is also tight," he continued. "Many growers, including ourselves, have had to go down the H2A visa path to secure workers. This involves providing housing and transportation, as well as going through a lot of paperwork. Although it is burdensome and takes a lot of time and effort to deal with, it enables Schmieding to have a consistent workforce throughout the season."
Florida grown promotion attracting retailers
As Florida is the first state to see domestic sweet corn production for the year, suppliers are encouraging retailers to promote this in stores. Incentives are available for those retailers, in association with the state's own marketing association.
"We are a member of the Sunshine Sweet Corn Farmers of Florida (SSCFF), and as a group we have been working together with retailers on a number of marketing programs," McDulin said. "The 'Sunshine Sweet, Fresh from the Sunshine State' brand is an initiative put forth for the promotion of Florida sweet corn. Retailers can earn funding to participate in promoting the state's corn in their stores. There has been a lot of success with this program and we anticipate another strong year."
Positive outlook for the season
The overall picture for the Florida sweet corn season is looking favorable. Growers simply hope the weather holds out and there won't be a repeat of last year when Spring storms heavily impacted crops. For Schmieding Produce, their increased acreage is looking like it will provide returns. Additionally, they will continue to work on initiatives like the tray packs as the season moves forward.
"For us, there will be additional volume as we have increased acreage by double digits," McDulin noted. "Barring any major problems such as storms, we are looking forward to a great season in terms of quality and volume. We will also continue to work on the tray pack business. It is not a new program, but we are seeing strong growth and opportunities in relation to this."