MARIETTA, Ohio - Sweet corn production in southern Ohio is early this year, about 10 days ahead of schedule and two to three weeks earlier than the rest of the state.
Eric Barrett, an Ohio State University Extension agent for Washington County, said the unusually hot weather before Easter helped boost crop production. "Despite the cool, wet weather in March, the crop has been doing great and production has kept well ahead of schedule," he said.
Growers in southern Ohio planted sweet corn around April 1 and many farmers will be picking their crop within the next few days or have already begun harvesting. "For example, farmers in Pike County have already started picking and farmers in most southeastern counties will start picking on Friday (June 29)," said Barrett. "Many people in northern Ohio are still buying their sweet corn from Florida. We want them to know that sweet corn grown locally is now available."
With sweet corn harvest normally beginning just after July 4, area farmers such as Jerry Witten are taking advantage of the early schedule. Witten of Witten Farms began picking large quantities of sweet corn on June 25. He and his family have been growing vegetables for generations in the Muskingum River Valley. "This is the earliest I've seen sweet corn ready for harvest in quite a few years," he said.
To ensure their customers receive the freshest product, the Wittens pick sweet corn every morning, beginning at 2 a.m. "This ensures that it is as fresh as possible for the dinner table," said Witten. Special road lights are rented for morning picking. "It makes a long day for the first few weeks of the season, but we get done earlier and customers really appreciate it," said Tom Witten, Jerry's son.
Initial sweet corn varieties at the Witten Farm include Temptation and Parfait, which are bi-colored. Bi-colored sweet corn has both white and yellow kernels. The Wittens also grow a white corn called Sweet Princess. All of the varieties are sugar-enhanced sweet corn, which means the corn plants have been bred for the especially sweet taste. Later in the season, the yellow Incredible corn will be ready for markets.
Corn is sold by the baker's dozen or the truckload. The Witten Farm sells corn locally, as well as to many farm markets in northern Ohio. "It's a real benefit for markets to be able to sell Ohio-Grown Sweet Corn," said Whitten. "Our corn doesn't have to travel a long way to get to the local customers. The tremendous flavor stays in the ear longer so that the customer can enjoy it fresh from the farm."