New organic sweet corn variety

When the time comes for Wisconsin’s organic farmers to decide which crops to plant next year, they’ll have a tasty new variety of sweet corn — with a particularly sweet name — among their choices.

The new variety, called “Who Gets Kissed?,” is the first in a series of organic, open-pollinated sweet corns being developed through a plant-breeding project led by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA). Farmers and professional breeders are also involved.

With yellow and white kernels, Who Gets Kissed? is named in honor of a game played at corn husking bees of old, when communities gathered to husk corn and dance. Corn was much more genetically diverse back then, and when a person found an ear with all red kernels, known as a “pokeberry ear,” they could choose one person among the group to kiss.

The story of the new variety’s development starts with Minnesota farmer Martin Diffley. Diffley couldn’t find an organic sweet corn variety with adequate vigor that tolerated his farm’s cool soils. He approached John Navazio, OSA’s senior scientist at the time, who put him in touch with UW-Madison sweet corn breeder Bill Tracy, professor and chair of the university’s Department of Agronomy. Tracy was already selecting for cool soil emergence in sweet corn, and a collaboration emerged.

After nearly seven years of effort, the project has yielded Who Gets Kissed?, a flavorful variety that yields well, tolerates cool soils and is resistant to common rust and corn smut.

Because the variety is open-pollinated, growers are encouraged to save and select seed from their harvests to adapt the variety to their own local conditions and market needs, she adds.

The new variety is available for purchase through High Mowing Organic Seeds. This project was funded in part by the Organic Farming Research Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative.


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