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Five factors to consider when choosing roadside sweet corn varieties

January 17, 2024

Maturity, environment, harvest method and packaging, consumer preference, and taste are crucial factors to consider when selecting roadside sweet corn varieties for your farm. Understanding and carefully evaluating these aspects will help you make informed decisions that align with your farm’s goals and the preferences of your customers.

1. Maturity:

Anticipated Planting Slot:

Consider the specific planting time for each variety, often expressed as “Days to Relative Maturity” (DRM). Early maturing varieties like Bolt XR (67 DRM) are ideal for early plantings, providing an advantage in reaching the market sooner than later-maturing counterparts. For later plantings, mid-season or full-season hybrids such as Stamina MXR are better suited to handle the heat and disease conditions.

Planting Time Flexibility:

Early maturing varieties can be useful later in the season to make up for planting delays due to weather conditions. However, consult with your local seed representative to ensure the chosen variety is suitable for this purpose, as performance can vary.

Home Gardening Strategy:

For home gardeners or smaller operations, planting hybrids of varying maturity at the same time allows for a staggered harvest. Choose 2-3 different hybrids with different maturity dates to extend the harvest period, providing a continuous supply rather than a single, concentrated harvest.

2. Environment (Geography):

Temperature and Disease Resistance:

Select varieties that thrive in the specific environmental conditions of your region. At IFSI we test varieties extensively in varying regions, across years, to develop and identify the best suited varieties for key growing areas. Some varieties are better equipped to handle heat and resist prevalent diseases. Consult with local experts or your seed company representative to choose varieties that are well-adapted to your geographic location. 

3. Harvest Method and Packaging:

Suitability for Mechanical Harvesting:

Consider whether the chosen variety is compatible with your harvesting equipment. Some varieties may be too tender for machine harvest, or additional care may need to be taken on these high-quality varieties to reduce harvest damage. If you’re seeing too much harvest damage, try slowing harvester speed, reducing drop points of the ears, and try harvesting when the corn is slightly more mature. Packaging Considerations: Evaluate the transportation method and end packaging. If ears are destined for a farm market display, larger ears with dark green husk and flag leaves will be more appealing. The husk appearance is a trait that IFSI focuses on in variety development. Dark green husks that resist burn or scald from the sun, stay looking fresh longer will give your end product the edge.

If packing into wooden crates, and achieving an ear count is important, IFSI’s shipping varieties will be better suited for these applications. Shipping hybrids have shorter shanks, tend to have smaller ear diameters, but still set the industry standard for eating quality in their class.

4. Consumer Preference:

Color, Endosperm, and Tenderness:

Understand the preferences of your target market. About 75% of the U.S. fresh market is bicolor (75% yellow kernels, 25% white kernels). Other colors, white and yellow, could be used as a differentiator. High eating quality hybrids are available in all of those colors. Review IFSI Reserve varieties if this is of interest. 

Endosperm type can be an important factor for both grower and consumer. Supersweet, also known as shrunken 2, varieties have better sweetness and extended shelf life both in the field and once harvested. These are important traits for both the grower and consumer as it can improve quality through the supply chain and reduce food waste. Note that supersweets will need isolation if also growing other endosperm types (sugary, sugary enhanced, or synergistic).  

Consumer tastes can vary, so select varieties that offer the desired ear color, endosperm texture, and tenderness. Conduct market research or gather feedback to tailor your offerings to consumer preferences.

5. Test

Test and Evaluate:

Breeders are continually improving and releasing new varieties. Often these are similar to or based on previous varieties, but have improvements for disease resistance, environmental stability, lodging resistance, taste, etc. If you have an old favorite, ask your seed representative if there is a newer variety, they recommend that would be similar. Also, it is a great idea to get a small amount of seed of a new variety to test alongside what you’ve been growing. This allows comparison for growing and taste characteristics. Taking a step further, conduct taste tests or gather feedback from consumers to ensure that the selected varieties meet or exceed their expectations for sweetness, flavor, and overall quality.

Hybrids with varying reactions to Northern Corn Leaf Blight, from left to right, Resistant (R), Moderate (M), Susceptible (S)

For additional information on sweet corn varieties and recommended planting programs, you can visit This website serves as a valuable resource, providing detailed insights into various varieties and their cultivation programs.

Additionally, don’t hesitate to consult with your local seed company sales representative or a seed consultant. Their expertise can help you navigate the vast array of sweet corn varieties, ensuring you make choices that align with your farm’s unique requirements and market demands. With careful consideration of these factors, you can cultivate a successful sweet corn harvest that delights both you and your customers.

Author's Image

About the Author

Charlie Thompson      Vice President – Director of Research

Charlie heads the breeding and product development team in IFSI’s vegetable division, catering to a worldwide network of seed dealers, growers, and consumers. Armed with a master’s degree in plant breeding and genetics from the University of Illinois and over 13 years of experience, Charlie is driven by a fervor to provide products and expertise that significantly influence stakeholders in the vegetable seed market. He is dedicated to advancing the legacy of IFSI and bringing forth solutions through cutting-edge genetics.

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