Sweet Corn Production Trends in the U.S., Wisconsin, and Fond du Lac Co
Wisconsin and Fond du Lac County have long been major production areas for processed sweet corn and green peas. Since 1980, the vegetable industry---not unlike other industries---has undergone considerable consolidation. Companies have become fewer but larger, jobs within the industry have been lost, and processing plants have changed ownership or been closed. So the question becomes "How have these changes impacted our local production area and Wisconsin as a whole?"
Three states dominate the production of processed sweet corn---Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Washington. Of these, Minnesota leads the pack with 122,000 acres in 2009 and nearly one million tons of total production (Figure 1). Washington (81,700 acres) produces the second most processed sweet corn with nearly 850,000 tons and Wisconsin (85,700 acres) currently falls third in line with nearly 667,000 tons produced in 2009.
Figure 1. Processed sweet corn production for selected states (1960-2009)
Throughout the late1980's and mid-1990's Wisconsin led the nation in processed sweet corn produced. During that time, about 25 percent of the nation's sweet corn was grown in the state. Since the mid-1990's, Wisconsin's share of national production has dropped to 20 percent but has held relatively constant at that level. Minnesota's production has steadily climbed while Washington's production has increased dramatically.
Yield trend lines for sweet corn have been positive since 1960 for the three leading production states. In Wisconsin and Minnesota, average state yield levels have increased from 3.0 to nearly 8.0 tons per acre for an average annual increase of 0.085 tons per acre per year. This increase in yield has held relatively constant for the past 50 years. Per acre yields in Washington, where most fields are under irrigation, has increased from about 5.0 tons per acre in 1960 to over 10.0 tons per acre in recent years. Overall, their trend line for yield improvement is steeper, but yield gains have been less than those experienced in the Midwest since about 1980. In other words, the gap in yield per acre is less today (about 2 tons/acre) than it was in 1980 (about 3 tons per acre). In 2009, record average sweet corn yields were set for the U.S., Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Washington.
One of the biggest changes in the processed sweet corn industry has been a shift from canned corn to frozen product (Figure 2). In 1960, 80 percent of the processed sweet corn production was canned. Today, that value is less than 50 percent. Since the mid-1990's, these percentages have been relatively constant.
Figure 2. U.S. production of sweet corn for canning or freezing (1960-2009)
Within Wisconsin, there have been some dramatic shifts in where sweet corn is produced. Figure 3 shows harvested acres for Fond du Lac, Dodge, Waushara, and Portage Counties. Through the mid-1990's, Fond du Lac and Dodge were easily the leading counties for processed sweet corn production in the state. Since that time, significant acres have shifted to the central sands, especially Portage County. Nevertheless, Fond du Lac County holds its position as the second leading sweet corn producer and still has the most processed sweet corn growers in the state (90 versus 48 for Portage Co. according to the 2007 Ag Census).
Although acres have declined long-term, sweet corn remains an important economic crop for the state and region. It still offers growers an opportunity to diversify and spread production risk.
Figure 3. Harvested acres of processed sweet corn for selected Wisconsin counties (1980-2007)
For more information contact Mike Rankin