Canard farmer Josh Oulton, with Taproot Farms, drops off some freshly-picked sweet corn to Noggins Farm Market with his son, six-year-old Frank. Oulton says the sale of sweet corn is down significantly this year and wonders if concerns over genetically modified seeds are at the root of the problem. – Jennifer Vardy Little
By Jennifer Vardy Little
Local farmers say as many as 5,000 dozen ears of corn may have to be plowed back into the fields this year.
Local corn is abundant this year, says Melissa Vaughan with Kings Produce Ltd., but consumers just aren’t buying it.
“We’re talking a lot of corn, thousands of dozens of ears,” Vaughan said. “It was a good year for corn, very good quality.”
That’s left farmers wondering what’s happening, she says. Recently, a major grocery store advertised corn for $2 a dozen – a price that’s well under wholesale. Farmers can’t compete with that price, Vaughan added. At the Kings Produce market, one dozen ears of corn currently sell for $4.50.
“It makes it a little more difficult for local farm markets when grocery stores sell it at a low price, well below wholesale,” Vaughan said.
Because the store stocked up on corn for the sale, they’re not buying more right now, either, she said.
While many people think of corn as a summertime side dish for barbecues, farmers will be harvesting corn into the fall. Right now, gourmet sweet corn is on the shelves of local farmer’s markets, Vaughan said.
Josh Oulton with TapRoot Farms says that the overabundance will likely prompt farmers to plant less corn next year.
“Each year, we live and learn. If the demand is less this year, we will plant less corn next year, this is the risky part of business,” he said.
The Canard farmer already planted 20 per cent less corn than he grew last year, yet there’s still about 10 to 15 per cent of his harvest that hasn’t yet been picked, plus more to come. That likely won’t be gathered, he said.
“It’s not just me that’s feeling the crunch,” he said. “I know farmers who have plowed in a lot of corn.”
Oulton feels strongly that fears about genetically modified corn are keeping people from buying local sweet corn.
“There’s a definite drop in consumption and we feel it’s a GMO thing – there’s a misconception that all corn is GMO,” he said.
That’s not the case with sweet corn, at least. Taproot Farms, he says, and a number of other farmers, use non-GMO seeds and use as little spray as possible. That means, he says, customers sometimes find aphids or worms in the corn, but it still tastes fine.
“Sweet corn isn’t what people need to worry about with GMOs – it’s the grain corn that’s the concern,” he said.
In the meantime, says Vaughan, farmers are left with a lot of excess corn.
“We’re going to have to harrow it under if it doesn’t sell,” she said.
She’s hoping that Kings County residents will think about buying some corn and either blanching the corn or cooking it, then taking the niblets off the cob, to freeze for winter.
“Corn is still available now,” she said. “I’m hoping that people will think about corn as a good part of their meals in fall, and not just a barbecue item.”