You might have noticed the first ears of Utah sweet corn hitting farm stands and farmers markets over the last few weeks. The height of Utah sweet corn is nearly here! Enjoyed right off the cob, kernels burst with juicy, slightly sweet flavors. But there is a pest lurking behind every ear of Utah sweet corn.
According to Luke Petersen, owner of Petersen Family Farm, earworms in his sweet corn are often a problem. And Utah State University Extension and Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Laboratory agrees, writing that they “are the most destructive insect pest of sweet corn in Utah.”
Because Petersen Family Farm chooses not to grow and sell GMO crops (engineered with a resistant gene), he fights the worms by spraying the eggs and small larvae before they enter the corn cob (hopefully). If the timing isn’t exactly right, the Petersens wind up with wormy corn. “Corn with worms is just as good as non-wormy corn, and it has the added protein of the worm,” Petersen jokes. In truth, though, the farm works hard to monitor the moth populations to keep their spraying intervals at ideal levels to decrease the incidence of wormy corn.
What customers should keep in mind is that the wormy corn is just as good as any other corn. The very tip may not have any kernels or may look brown but the simplest solution is to cut the effected tip of the corn off with a sharp knife before boiling or grilling. “The cob is 95% still good, just a little worm damage in the very top,” Petersen reasons.
Educating customers about the remaining value of wormy corn is a challenge. “Many times people get physically angry and rude when they see worms in our corn like it is a personal offense,” Petersen continues. “We have had customers in our store complain a lot, and also some wholesale customers who have been upset and asked for credits on product and also threatened to go with a different supplier if we cannot clean up the problem and ensure worm-free corn,” recalls Petersen. “We have ways of culling out the bad corn, but it just gets wasted.”
As corn is a natural product, the Petersens also face another problem with their corn—birds scratching at the top of the corn to eat the worms. This is recognizable when the tassle and tip of the corn is shredded. The cycle of nature continues and doesn’t do any harm to the remaining corn.
So the next time your freshly grown Utah sweet corn isn’t 100% perfect, keep in mind it’s a product of nature and the more pests, the fewer the chemicals. So if the moths, insects and birds want to eat it, so should you!
You can find sweet corn as well as other fruits and vegetables (plus the pumpkin patch in the fall) from Petersen Family Farm at local farmers markets, Harmon’s stores in the southern end of the Salt Lake valley and at their Farm Market open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.