Hybrid Trials Help Fuel Growing Interest in White Corn

March 20, 2002

COLUMBUS, Ohio - White corn, a specialty crop used to make taco shells and corn chips, is receiving greater attention among Ohio growers looking for an alternative to yellow feed corn.

Ohio State University researchers have completed their sixth year of white corn performance trials to assist growers in choosing hybrids that exhibit certain agronomic traits, such as good yields, resistance to diseases and little or no stalk lodging.

"What we are trying to do is provide some baseline information as a benchmark for which hybrids to use - which ones exhibit the best agronomic characteristics and are suitable for Ohio's growing conditions," said Peter Thomison, an Ohio State agronomist.

Researchers planted 21 early-season hybrids and compared their performance against two yellow dent hybrids commonly grown in Ohio. Yield ranged from 107 bushels per acre to 170 bushels per acre. Stalk lodging ranged from nearly three percent to over 50 percent. Ohio was one of 10 states involved in the performance trials. Other areas included Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Ontario, Canada.

Thomison said the need for white corn performance trials is increasing due to the gaining popularity of white corn among growers throughout the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, white corn acreage in the U.S. in 2000 was over 880,000, up from 550,000 in 1997. White corn acreage in the Ohio River Valley in 2000 was 65,000 acres, up from 50,000 acres three years earlier. Other states that grow white corn have also seen an increase in the number of acres over the past several years.

"The premium farmers can get for white corn in some years makes it a pretty attractive specialty crop to grow," said Thomison, adding that white corn premiums can run as high as 50 cents per bushel and more for organically grown white corn . "But there is definitely a challenge in growing and marketing white corn."

Thomison said white corn is a contracted crop, meaning farmers must secure a buyer for their acreage before they can even attempt to grow it. "Probably one of the things that has kept Ohio acreage down (compared to other states like Texas and Kentucky) is that there is the limited number of end users in the state. There are not a lot of food processors here that farmers can set up contracts with." It is estimated that nearly 70 percent of white corn grown in the United States is planted under contract.

One of the challenges in growing white corn is that the crop must be isolated from other cornfields to avoid cross-pollination. "Farmers should plant white corn 60 feet or more from a neighboring field," said Thomison. "Any contamination of white corn by yellow corn, resulting in yellow kernels on white corn ears, will affect the market value."

Farmers should do their homework in choosing white corn varieties that not only exhibit good agronomic traits but also possess food-grade characteristics that processors are looking for. Such characteristics include density and hardness of the kernel, kernel uniformity and ease of seedcoat removal. End users often provide lists of the hybrids that meet their needs.

"Unlike yellow dent corn, there's more to growing white corn hybrids than just to get a high yield," said Thomison. "In some cases, food-grade characteristics are more important than yield. Consistency is a big thing for the end user. Farmers shouldn't focus on agronomic traits alone."

To receive a copy of "White Food Corn 2001 Performance Tests, Spec. Rep. 540," contact Allen Geyer at (614) 292-1393 or geyer.9@osu.edu, or log on to http://www.agron.missouri.edu/ars_columbia/fcpt&fd.html. The report not only outlines Ohio's performance trials of early-season hybrids, but it also covers early-season trials and late-season trials, as well as food quality characteristics and insect and disease tolerance from several other states.

For more information on white corn log on to http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~hocorn/.

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
Peter Thomison