Summertime sweet corn reigns supreme

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LANCASTER — Sweet corn is the crown jewel of a summer feast, grown on 390 Virginia farms on 3,633 harvested acres, according to the 2022 Census of Agriculture.

Virginia-grown sweet corn typically appears in farmers markets, produce stands and grocery stores in June, available up to mid-October. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistic Service recently reported Virginia’s corn crop conditions as “74 percent good” with 95 percent planted by early June.

Most of Virginia’s sweet corn is grown in Rockingham County, followed by Loudoun and Halifax counties, but the vast majority of corn grown in Virginia is raised to feed livestock. About 454,000 acres of field corn were harvested in 2022.

“Directly or indirectly, all that corn ends up on the table,” said Robert Harper, marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Grain Marketing Division. “Field corn nourishes the livestock that produce our milk, poultry and meat.”

Field and sweet corn are siblings with two sets of traits, he continued.

“Sweet corn is bred for the sugar content and harvested with much higher moisture,” Harper said. “Field corn dries down. It will break your tooth off!”

To clench peak juiciness, Ronnie Forrester and his son, Dwight, of Holyoke Farm in Lancaster County prefer to harvest sweet corn early in the day.

“When picked in the morning, it’s juicer,” Ronnie said.

The third- and fourth-generation farmers grow 2.5 acres of bicolor sweet corn called Obsession II. The variety boasts high yields, easy picking and extreme sweetness.

Those rows are grown adjacent to 600 acres of field corn. Ronnie said compared to field corn, sweet corn is more delicate, with shorter stalks.

The farm’s sweet corn isn’t a cash crop. Instead, the Forresters open the field to neighbors, family, friends and business partners, while addressing local food insecurity.

“We planted some for the Healthy Harvest Food Bank and harvested about 7,000 pounds,” Dwight said. “It’s our way of giving back.”

To grow quality sweet corn, the conservation award-winning, no-till farm practices crop rotation and plants rye cover crops to promote soil health, nutrient retention and weed suppression. Dwight said corn flourishes in the sandy loam soils of the Northern Neck.

As their sweet corn is cultivated for its summer debut, “everyone wants it on the Fourth of July,” Ronnie said. “But that doesn’t always happen in time.”

It depends on the weather, which NASS reported as “abnormally dry.”

“Now we pray for rain,” Dwight said. “And hope we have some nice days for harvest.”

To find sweet corn growers and sellers locally,

search the Virginia Grown database at



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