ACSESS: Tastier, less expensive organic sweet corn

Next time you savor organic sweet corn, you may want to thank an agronomist.

Bill Tracy is member of the American Society of Agronomy, and leads a team of researchers at UW Madison’s west side agricultural field. Not only does he want your sweet corn to be tastier, he would like to make it less expensive.

Tracy, chair of the UW-Madison Department of Agronomy, has grown his department into one of the largest focusing on organic agricultural breeding for the general market. Tracy attributes the motivation for this development to graduate student interest.

Graduate student Tessa Peters adds, “the price of corn is directly related to the number of weeds for organic farmers.” Paying workers to weed the fields increases costs of corn. She is working to create tastier varieties that organic farmers can plant in tight rows. The leaves of the corn stalks then overlap, creating too much shade for weeds to grow. This, in turn, will decrease the price of organic sweet corn over time.

One highlight of working in the fields is that researchers get to taste the “fruits of their labors.” Though this sounds fun, it also has a research purpose. “We rate the taste of corn based on certain variables,” says Tracy. The researchers choose the plants that thrive in the right conditions and produce tasty corn. They tabulate the results and name new varieties. Soon you can enjoy this corn at your dinner table with some butter and salt.