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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

TALK ABOUT BABY CORN


BABY CORN (Zea mays) is a popular in Malaysia and other Asian Regions vegetable that can be consumed cooked or raw due to its sweet and succulent taste. I like baby corn since it was easily available and cheap in Pasar Basar or Pasar Tani (Local Farmers Market). Many people presume that ‘BABY CORN’ are the tiny ears come from dwarf corn plants. Actually as my knowledge in agriculture for almost 30 years know that baby corn is the immature ear of fully grown standard cultivars; ears are harvested two or three days after silk emergence, but prior to fertilization.

Marketing and Promotion of Baby Corn
In Malaysia and many neighbouring country the fresh baby corn sold in the packet with 5-10 pieces or in the husk. It can be marketed directly at farmers markets and to ethnic markets even in Superstore and Hypermarket such as TESCO, JUSCO, GIANT and many other outlets. Most local Thai Food and Local Malay restaurants particularly those specializing in Asian or vegetarian dishes, may also be serving salad or cooked baby corn and interested in purchasing fresh baby corn. Health food stores in big City like Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Penang, KK and Kuching are a potential marketing avenue for organically grown ears with proper promotion. Growers desiring to produce and market organic baby corn must first be certified by a Department of Agriculture Malaysia under Sijil Organik Malaysia (SOM).It took about 2 years for new organic farm for certification process and about 1 year for established organic farms.

Market Outlook in Malaysia
Most baby corn sold in the Malaysia are 75% fresh from local farmers and the remaining processed baby corn from China, Thailand or other neighbouring countries. Malaysian prefers the fresh baby corn because of superior taste and texture. The fresh product may provide a marketing advantage over the more readily available canned import. Organic baby corn may also have a marketing advantage, especially in light of the rapid increase in demand for organic products if properly labelled. Total area under sweet corn growing area about 3,500 hectare annually non-seasonal. Farmers from Perlis to Sabah able to produce more than 450 metric tonnes for fresh consumption and if there are SME Industry for canning create more opportunity for farmers to expand the markets.

Considerations of producing Baby Corn
Variety selection. Growing of many common local or hybrid sweet corn cultivars can be used for baby corn production. From my observation as agriculture extension agent in many states, there is no taste advantage in growing a sweet corn variety over other field corn since the ears are harvested before the sugars have an opportunity to accumulate. However according to experience farmers in Muar, Johor who grows sweet corn for more than 15 years, and the sweet corn cultivars tend to be easier to do hand-harvest. The only an important advantage of field corn is the lower seed cost. Grain corn or field corn stalks however tend to have stronger resistance to lodging due to the development of brace roots. Not many farmers grow grain corn in Malaysia due to not economic return. Study by my officer found that the ear quality is more than the yield and should be the primary objective when selecting a variety. Small kernel size, straight row kernel alignment, and tapered tips are preferred characteristics for high quality baby corn. But there are condition where some buyers prefer longer ears especially on local night market.

My observation also found another factor to consider in variety selection is the ease in which the ears can be pulled from the stalk without damaging the leaves and plants. Corn varieties specifically bred for baby corn production are also available. Sweet corn variety almost 100 percent imported hybrid seeds such as Sweet Corn 1000, Sweet Corn 1001, Sweet Corn Yellow 388 and Sweet Corn 926 are among popular variety in Malaysia. Some of these specialty cultivars or hybrid seeds are shorter than traditional types and able to produce multiple stalks and can yield as many as 20 ears per plant. In Malaysia an average of 4-6 ears are harvested each plant. Site selection and planting Corn will do well in all areas of lowland and fertile soil such as in Muar, Johor, Selangor an many other area. I notice that the well-drained soils are essential for good results. Planting schedule all year round without any fear or consideration of monsoon flood for selected upland area. Potential tillage and cropping systems include no-till, low-till, strip cropping, mulch till, living cover crop and intercropping.

Many commercial sweet corn growers in Johor said that baby corn can be produced as either a primary crop (all ears are harvested for baby corn) or as a secondary crop (the top ear is left to mature while subsequent ears are harvested as baby corn). A close plant spacing is used when baby corn is the primary crop. Cross-pollination with other corn varieties in adjacent fields is not a problem for baby corn when it is grown as the primary crop, since it is harvested when immature. However, when baby corn is produced as a secondary crop, crosspollination can be a problem for those ears left to develop fully. In this case, isolation among different cultivars will be necessary. This can be accomplished by physical separation or by making sure there is a minimum of 14 days Difference in the maturities of different types.

Pest management
According to Mr Hassan from Kg Sg Dulang, Pontian, Johor claim that corn earworm is one of the most destructive insects attacking sweet corn. It generally attacks after silking and it may be less of a problem in baby corn. Other insect pests that can cause crop damage include Tropical corn borers, armyworms, Local beetles and flea beetles. Hassan said that by producing baby corn as the primary crop will be able to avoid many of these problems since the crop is harvested so early. In addition Hassan claim that baby corn ears are tightly wrapped inside the husk in which helps protect them from pest attack. Potential disease problems include Stewart’s wilt, leaf blights, rust, and viruses. Good Agriculture Practices that Hassan apply manage to reduce the problems.

Harvesting Baby Corn
From my own observation in commercial sweet corn growers seems that baby corn is hand-harvested 1 to 2 days after silk emergence. It was while the ears are still immature. The ideal ear size is 2 to 4 inches long and 1/3 to 2/3 inches in diameter. This is because ears can quickly become too large and tough to be sold as baby corn. Normally the frequent harvests of every 2 to 3 days are necessary. The harvest period can last 2 to 4 weeks. To maintain ear moisture and quality, fresh baby corn, like sweet corn, is sold in the husk. Ears must be properly cooled immediately after harvest.

Manpower requirement
The production of baby corn needs extra manpower. Labour requirement for baby corn production are not available but as I calculated they should be similar to sweet corn production (20 hours per acre). When baby corn harvest and packing it will be considerably more labour-intensive than the 55 to 65 hours per acre needed for hand harvested sweet corn. Harvest of baby corn is currently done by hand and requires 12 to 18 successive pickings in which will add to the labour requirements. Farmers in Jasin, Melaka employ 2-4 foreign workers to manage baby corn production.

Economic Analysis
The baby corn production requires an initial investments cost include land preparation and purchase of sweet corn seed. The installation of irrigation system would be an additional start-up cost either sprinkler system or other systems. Growers choosing to use a sweet corn variety may incurred somewhat higher seed costs than growers who select field corn for baby corn production. Field corn varieties that produce multiple ears can result in higher yields, presuming the ears are of a high quality. Cost and returns will also be affected by the production method used; that is, whether baby corn is the primary or secondary crop. Potential growers of fresh baby corn are
Advised to locate a market and determine the market value before planting large amounts. Baby corn production is a profitable venture in Malaysia.


By,
M Anem
Like to eat fresh baby corn
Muar, Johor,
Malaysia.

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