Delays, shortages expected for Taber corn crop – Hail wallops iconic Alberta summer treat

By Amanda Stephenson, Calgary Herald
July 16, 2013

CALGARY – For many Albertans, August is synonymous with Taber corn. But the famed sweet cobs could be hard to come by this year, due to a hailstorm earlier this month that pounded crops in southeast Alberta.

David Jensen of Jensen’s Taber Corn said the vast majority of his corn stalks were broken or flattened in the July 5 storm. While he still hopes to get a decent crop off (damaged corn plants will usually put out secondary shoots and start over), there’s no way he’ll be ready to harvest by the first of August. In fact, it could be mid-August or later before any of the coveted golden ears start showing up for sale.

“It’s going to be late, and I think there might actually be a shortage this year,” Jensen said, adding there was already going to be less corn this year because one of the retirement of one of the Taber area’s major growers. “There were fewer acres seeded this year.”

Sweet corn is not a crop that grows easily in this province, said Alberta Agriculture crop specialist Harry Brook. While silage corn can be grown throughout Alberta, even as far north as the Peace River country, corn for human consumption requires very warm growing conditions. Only a small pocket in the southeast corner of the province — the Taber area — can boast the heat and sunshine needed to make growing sweet corn worthwhile.

“Almost invariably, we just don’t have the heat,” Brook said. “When you come right down to it with the whole Taber corn thing, it’s a very small area that is pretty much providing the corn to the rest of the province.”

That means that one storm can wreak havoc with supply. Bob Kendall, manager of Crossroads Market in Calgary, said he’s already heard from his suppliers that the Taber corn crop has been virtually “wiped out” by hail.

“It’s like the B.C. farmers with their cherries. If they get a frost, it can wipe out a whole crop,” Kendall said. “(Taber corn) is a popular item, but that’s part of farming. You take your chances. We’ll still offer other types of corn here, like B.C. corn.”

A warm September could go a long way toward helping this year’s corn crop bounce back and ensuring farmers get a decent yield in the end. But Melonie McKee, manager of the Millarville Farmer’s Market, said sales in September are never as good as sales in August, when kids are still out of school and barbecue season is in full swing.

“Our numbers are lower generally anyway, in those last few market days, so it will make a difference,” she said.

Jensen — who is also president of the Alberta Corn Growers Association — warned that a late corn crop could lead to more instances of “counterfeit” corn. For years, corn growers have been fuming about what they say are fraudulent corn sellers trying to pass off lower quality produce as Taber corn.

Jensen said if people have any doubts, especially about corn purchased at roadside stands, they should ask to see a certificate of authenticity that includes the name and phone number of the farm.

“With the crop being late, you’re probably going to see corn out there that’s not Taber,” he said.

[email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Heraldwhite