Tough year for some south-central Minnesota sweet corn growers

Farm Forum

As the sweet corn harvest gets into full swing, some growers in south-central Minnesota say spring frost followed by a hot summer with several severe rainstorms reduced yields.

Aug. 12 was the last day of the four-week sweet corn harvest for Brad Sasse, who owns Sasse Farms in Le Sueur County. He said his crop was about 75 percent of what it was last year, when many local growers reported a bumper crop.

“It was probably the toughest year we’ve had in a long time,” Sasse said.

He began planting roughly 17 acres of sweet corn in mid-April. A frost in mid-May came after about half of his crop was planted, taking about a week off his selling season. Sasse sells corn out of his pickup in Le Sueur and New Prague as well as in grocery stores and meat markets.

While frost was the biggest problem, “a little bit too much rain” and heat also were obstacles.

“Corn plants like to cool off at night. When you have lows in the mid-70s, that’s not good,” he said.

Sasse still has a tomato crop to harvest, expected to be in good shape. He grows his tomatoes under cover so they are not affected by rainstorms.

Other farmers agreed the crop is about three-quarters of what’s expected. Paul Platz, who grows 73 acres of sweet corn in Lafayette and is a contract grower for Seneca Foods, planted in late June and intends to harvest in mid-September.

Platz said his crop was planted under less than ideal conditions; the soil was wet beforehand but then too dry when he planted. Recent rain also has caused some standing water in his fields.

In general, Minnesota farmers expect to harvest 8 to 10 tons of sweet corn per acre, but many in the area are harvesting only 5 1/2 to 6 tons this year, Platz said.

“It may go up as we get away from the fields that were planted when it was too wet in June,” Platz said.

Dave Nicolai, a University of Minnesota Extension crops educator, said he noticed some of the earlier sweet corn had slightly thin ears, which can be caused by extreme heat.

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Heat, and sometimes water, can cause kernels on the ends of ears to abort because of stress, he said.

“Mostly when it starts to get in excess of 95 degrees, it’s a real problem,” he said.

Excessive rain also can be accompanied by strong winds, which can break or tangle corn. There’s also the potential for diseases or insects.

Still, some local growers said they are having a decent season.

Pat Kienlen, owner of Grandma’s Little Acre in St. Peter, has finished his sweet corn season and said the farm had a “pretty good year.” He said the lighter, sandier soil where he farms about 100 acres of sweet corn two miles west of St. Peter was able to absorb the rain.

“All the rain didn’t really bother us,” he said.

Guldan Farms between New Ulm and Courtland also has had a good sweet corn season so far, said Tim Guldan, who works in the family business. They will be picking their multiple plantings of 7-8 acres of sweet corn through September.

“Weather hasn’t been too much of a problem,” he said. Critters, particularly the raccoons that are notorious for destroying sweet corn, have been more problematic, wiping out a few of the farm’s sweet corn plantings.

The farm has 25 acres of 30 different kinds of produce. Peas were severely hurt by the rain and mud.

While sweet corn is only a tad behind last year, the farm’s produce as a whole is “substantially behind last year,” Guldan said.

“We got some ground to make up,” he said.