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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Urbana, Illinois » Global Change and Photosynthesis Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #398911

Research Project: Resilience of Integrated Weed Management Systems to Climate Variability in Midwest Crop Production Systems

Location: Global Change and Photosynthesis Research

Title: An outlook on processing sweet corn production from the last three decades (1990s-2010s)

item DHALIWAL, DALJEET - University Of Illinois
item Williams, Martin

Submitted to: HortScience
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/12/2023
Publication Date: 6/26/2023
Citation: Dhaliwal, D., Williams, M. 2023. An outlook on processing sweet corn production from the last three decades (1990s-2010s). HortScience. 58(7):792-796.

Interpretive Summary: National trends in sweet corn production show declines in acreage and profitability of processed sweet corn. In a first of its kind, we used field-level datasets from vegetable processors to look more deeply into what may be driving such trends in sweet corn production. Over three decades (1990s to 2010s), we found the largest declines in sweet corn production were in rainfed systems of the Midwest. Below-average yield deviations were most acute in these rainfed systems, particularly in years that experienced adverse weather events such as drought, heatwaves, or floods. This work shows the significance of extreme weather on sweet corn, and how climate change may already be impacting the production of one of America's favorite vegetables.

Technical Abstract: Sweet corn — consumed both fresh and processed (primarily canned or frozen) — is a popular vegetable crop in the United States. Recent nationwide data have reported worrisome trends in sweet corn production, which threatens the future of sweet corn industry. Here, we evaluated a processing sweet corn dataset that represents nearly three decades (1992–2018) of commercial production in the Upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest regions, to understand national trends in US processing sweet corn. The objectives of this study were to: (a) quantify trends in processing sweet corn production (harvest area and total green ear mass production), (b) understand trends in planting date, plant population density, and hybrid lifespan, and (c) estimate inter-annual yield deviations in green ear mass yield. Our results reveal declining trends in sweet corn hectares, particularly in rainfed production systems of the Upper Midwest. For the last three decades of commercial sweet corn production (ending in 2018), plant population density and planting dates utilized by vegetable processors have remained unchanged. Our analysis revealed a large range (1 to 20 years) in hybrid lifespan, which can be attributed to wide differences in hybrid yield stability across the diverse production environments in the US. Rainfed production systems are becoming scarcer, as sweet corn yields under rainfed conditions are particularly susceptible to severe weather, including heat and drought stress events. Future research is needed to understand sweet corn yields as a function of climatic and non-climatic variables to stabilize the industry, particularly given predictions of a future with more frequent weather extremes.