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Fresh sweet corn is poppin’ for punctual planters

July 4, 2018 GMT

The early corn grower gets the customer.

That’s the lesson Greg Forejt Jr. of Windy Heights Farm takes away from an otherwise frustrating 2018 planting season. The key, he said, was getting the seed in early and letting the rain do the rest.

“It was a perfect growing environment for sweet corn,” he said.

Windy Heights Farm Market in East Huntingdon announced on its Facebook page that sweet corn was available for sale June 24 — a personal record for earliest corn.

“Our goal is always to have it by the Fourth of July, and we beat that by 11 days or so,” he said.

So does “knee-high by the Fourth of July” still apply?

Not really, say area sweet corn growers.

“That went out with the horse and buggy,” said Hil Schramm, co-owner of Schramm Farms & Orchards in Penn Township.

The agricultural aphorism applies more to field corn growers than to sweet corn growers, he said. This is the normal time of year for Schramm’s to have corn for sale, he said.

“We started picking (Sunday). We almost always start around July 1,” he said.

Sweet corn comes into maturity in about half the time as field corn, so planting early is critical if the goal is to have corn for sale by the Fourth, Forejt said.

The record levels of rain this spring worked in farmers’ favor as long as the seed was already planted. Those who waited found a limited window for planting, he said.

“This was probably the most challenging spring a guy could ask for, with how much rainfall we’ve had,” Forejt said. “The opportunities were few and far between, so you almost had to base your life around the weather and rainfall this year.”

At Windy Heights, the sweet corn was planted on a warm day in early April — followed two days later by snow, he said.

“We were kind of writing it off as a loss. I’ve never seen corn come up through snow before. Once the snow melted, there was corn there,” he said.

At Yarnick’s Farm in Indiana County, the first planting yielded sweet corn by June 28, about a week later than usual. The second planting at the valley farm was inundated by rain, Dan Yarnick said.

“It’s been a tough season — it was pretty cold to start with and it was awfully wet,” Yarnick said. “It’s definitely been a challenge to get to the later stuff.”

Despite being a week behind, Yarnick said the early corn looks good.

The combination of rain and a cold spring affected the number of growing degree-days necessary for corn crops to reach maturity, said Rachel Milliron, agronomy extension educator for Penn State Extension, Armstrong County.

Calculating growing degree-days helps farmers track a corn crop’s development — and is much more reliable than the old “knee-high by the Fourth of July” standard. Growing degree-days are calculated by averaging the high and low temperatures for a day and subtracting a base temperature, which is 50 degrees for corn, Milliron said.

As for this year’s sweet corn, harvest times in Southwestern Pennsylvania have varied widely, depending on the county and the local weather conditions, she said.

“Most farmers are on schedule for their sweet corn,” she said. “If they didn’t get it in on time, it’s similar to growers that are growing field corn. Some weren’t able to get it in on time because of all the rain we got.”

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.