What is the difference between field corn and sweet corn?

August 12, 2020

Answer: Field corn is primarily fed to livestock and sweet corn is enjoyed by humans this time of the year as corn on the cob.

Sweet corn season has arrived! But did you know that sweet corn only accounts for about 1% of all the corn that is grown? That’s right! 99% of the corn that is grown is actually field corn.

Field Corn – The majority of field corn is used to feed livestock such as cattle and hogs for beef and pork production. We grow about 2,100 acres of field corn every year. Much of it is fed to the livestock and the rest can be sold to the grain market.

Field corn is also used to make ethanol fuel. It is used to make foods such as starches and sweeteners and is also used in peanut butter, salad dressing, crackers, ice cream, and even pet food, to name a few things. Field corn is used to make beer and other alcohol as well.

It is also used in things you wouldn’t think about it being used for such as degradable plastics, carpet, fireworks, paper, crayons, glue, tires, vitamins, toothpaste, and medicines.

Sweet Corn – We also grow about one acre of sweet corn each year. This is the corn you see at local farm stands and grocery stores in the summertime. Sweet corn is grown for human consumption, to eat directly off the cob, no processing necessary.

Sweet corn does not grow as tall as field corn and the leaves are much thinner. Sweet corn doesn’t take nearly as long to grow as field corn either. It is planted in April or May and ready by July or August. In comparison, field corn is planted in April or May and is not ready until September or October.

We like to plant half of our sweet corn crop in the very beginning of planting season. Then we plant all of our field corn and then we plant the second half of our sweet corn crop at the very end of planting season. We like to do it this way for two reasons. One being the weather always affects the growing of the crops so if crop number one had way too much rain or was way too dry for instance and did not thrive well, we would still have a chance at great yields with crop number two or vice versa. The second reason to plant it in two crops is to prolong the consumption phase.

Sweet corn only stays fresh, tender, and edible for a short period of time, unlike field corn where the kernels are dried out and preserved for much longer. Once crop number one is coming to an end, ideally crop number two is ready to go. You can see our little farm stand set up each year by the road.

A big difference between the two is sweet corn is much sweeter than field corn, as the name implies. People will get quite a surprise if they decide to go pick field corn for dinner off the side of the road that they think is sweet corn. While nobody wants their crops “stolen” I think every farmer has gotten a laugh out of this at one time or another thinking of them taking that first bite of field corn for dinner.

So the next time you are enjoying a juicy steak or pork chop on the grill with a side of buttery corn on the cob and an ice cold mug of beer, you can think about the difference between field corn and sweet corn and which one was used to produce each item.

Fun Fact: Our cow-calf herd’s very favorite treat is the husks of the sweet corn. They will come running for it and even shove each other out of the way to eat the most delicious snack they’ve ever had!