Sweet corn sweltering in summer heat spells uncertainty for corn lovers

URBANA, Ill. – Few things say summer in America more than buttery corn on the cob, but as summer temperatures climb to unprecedented levels, the future of sweet corn may not be so sweet. New University of Illinois research shows sweet corn yields drop significantly with extreme heat during flowering, especially in rainfed fields in the Midwest.

Climate projections don’t just predict a handful of hot days going forward. The U.S. Global Change Research Program predicts 20 to 30 more days over 32 C by mid-century across much of the U.S.   

“The reality is that producing sweet corn, one of the most popular vegetable crops in the U.S., will be more difficult in the future. We need to develop new approaches and technologies to help crops adapt to climate change,” says Daljeet Dhaliwal, former graduate research assistant and lead author on the study published in Scientific Reports.

Dhaliwal worked with Marty Williams, USDA-ARS ecologist and affiliate professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois, to document yield response of sweet corn to growing season temperature and precipitation over a 27-year period. Williams obtained private data from sweet corn processors for 16,040 individual fields in Illinois, Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin, providing a much finer resolution than similar studies in field corn using county-level data.

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