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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Gainesville, Florida » Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology » Chemistry Research » Research » Research Project #443456

Research Project: Sweet CAP: Integrated Technologies to Improve Sweet Corn Production and Marketability

Location: Chemistry Research

Project Number: 6036-11210-002-006-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Oct 1, 2022
End Date: Sep 14, 2024

Americans only eat about half the recommended amount of vegetables, and one third of this recommendation is for starchy vegetables, such as sweet corn. Sweet corn is one of the most popular vegetables in the U.S., and has a total production valued at about $800 million per year. However, the production value of sweet corn has been slowly declining over the last decades. This situation, added to the many production challenges faced by growers, such as the intense disease and insect pressure, establishes challenges to profitability and sustainability to our stakeholders. This research aims to improve sweet corn to support economic sustainability of the industry, and support efforts to encourage Americans to eat enough vegetables. Sweet corn is distinct from field corn, because it is produced to be eaten as a fresh vegetable or to be processed for canning and freezing. As with vegetables such as tomatoes and carrots, a high sugar content improves shelf-life and eating quality of sweet corn, but this must be balanced with sufficient starch reserves in the mature kernel for early season planting and seedling establishment. For the fresh market, consumers want corn to have a tender pericarp, fresh-looking husk leaves and silks. For both fresh and processing market, consumers are also concerned about chemical control of pests, and it is imperative for sweet corn to be resistant to insect and diseases. Novel sources of genetic resistance can come from field and tropical corn. However, these crosses disrupt many of the plant and kernel characteristics needed for harvest, such as plant height and shank strength, as well as characteristics for marketability, such as sugar content, aroma, and tenderness. These and other system-wide challenges have led to a narrowing of sweet corn genetic diversity. Innovative and multidisciplinary approaches are required to improve the genetic foundation of the sweet corn agricultural system. This research seeks to improve breeding efficiency in sweet corn to address all facets of production, distribution, and marketing of fresh and processed corn. The project brings together a team that includes sweet corn breeders, geneticists, pathologist, entomologist, economist, food scientist, nutritionist and molecular biologists from 6 different institutions. The long-term goal of this coordinated trans-disciplinary project is to develop technologies, resources, and varieties to improve production, distribution, and marketability of sweet corn. This project is led by the University of Florida and ARS is involved in the research that focuses on breeding and research of agronomic traits including disease resistance, and Insect tolerance and behavioral manipulation. As well as improving the eating quality and nutritional properties of sweetcorn via flavor and aroma compound analysis.

Sweet corn has a characteristic volatile profile that adds significantly to the flavor of the final product. The major volatiles that contribute to flavor may also serve to attract insect pests or act as indirect defense by attracting predatory/parasitic insects. We will investigate volatiles from diverse sweet corn lines, including those with pest resistance and excellent eating quality, to identify volatiles associated with these desired phenotypes . We will also investigate the impact of sweetcorn volatiles in plant-pest or plant insect interactions.