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ISHS Acta Horticulturae 1137: International Symposium on Innovation in Integrated and Organic Horticulture (INNOHORT)

New agronomic techniques for high quality organic sweet corn in maritime Canada

Authors:   J. Owen, S. LeBlanc
Keywords:   Zea mays, zone-tillage, living mulch, integrated production, cropping systems
DOI:   10.17660/ActaHortic.2016.1137.5
In eastern Canada, sweet corn is a high input, high value seasonal table vegetable crop. In maritime Canada, where the season is later and briefer than other parts of eastern Canada, sweet corn commonly sells for $ 6 per dozen ears, and demand for organic sweet corn results in prices as high as $ 12 per dozen if pre-shucked. Acreage is limited, however, because of the challenges of bringing organic sweet corn to successful harvest. The crop requires high levels of fertility, as well as intensive pest management techniques to control weeds and insects which cause reductions in crop quality and yield. Methods for high quality sweet corn production were examined in the context of a long term organic rotations experiment in New Brunswick. Innovative techniques were developed including: 1) using transplants instead of direct seeding; 2) planting into zone-tilled established red clover living mulch; 3) use of narrow over-zone biodegradable organic “mini-mulches”; 4) drip irrigation; 5) fertility regime using pre-plant banded organic compost and soluble organic fertigation; and 6) insect pest scouting and control using organic pesticides. This resultant system was inputs-intensive, but comparison of input costs and revenues from this organic system with those from commercial maritime conventional sweet corn systems proved it to be highly profitable, more so even than conventional systems. The caveat was that the risk profile differed vastly between systems with the organic system requiring considerably higher investment in the early part of the season. This high-performance system will likely yield well for growers across eastern Canada, and is the first reliable system for producing organic sweet corn for this region.

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