Hybrid Sweet Corn – Sweeter Than Ever

Market Sweet CornBut there’s no sugar-coating restrictions on its use.

Sugar-enhanced (“se”) sweet corns have been all the rage over the last few seasons. Seed companies have touted some of their products with phrases like “sweetest ever” and “candy sweet.” These naturally bred hybrids — no, they’re not genetically modified — seem to answer the All-American craving for sugary satisfaction. Now there’s an even more sugary designation for sweet corns — “supersweet” or “sh2″ — for those table corns that are all about the sugar.

With names like ‘Sweet Riser,” “Kandy Korn,” and “Sugar Ace,” these se and sh2 corns, most of them commercially grown, offer marketing potential in a way that plain-old sweet corn can’t. You don’t need to rush them home from the market and plunge them in boiling water to enjoy their sugary flavor. They’ve been bred to hold their sugars longer. One of the ironies in the advertising of these corns is the tie in to “old-fashioned” flavor. Of course, old fashioned flavor is available to anyone who’ll grow their own. You don’t need a new hybrid variety to enjoy delicious sweet corn.

The latest of these is the Amaize hybrid, developed by the Crookham Company of Caldwell, Idaho. Amaize, according to the Crookham Company, has been in development since 1989. It was the texture that attracted breeders George Crookham and Bruce Hobdey. Sweeter sweet corns were often flat and chewy, without that skin pop and flavor burst that good, fresh-picked sweet corn has. Crookham and Hobdey tried some 10,000 combinations of pollinated corns until they found the one that became Amaize. The corn, introduced in 2011, mimics fresh-picked quality with its sweetness and the crisp skin of its kernels.

The marketing campaign for Amaize has been something to behold. Ears were sent to writers, growers, and gourmets overnight delivery and raves started to pour in. The corn even has its own Facebook page (we’re sure you can find it yourself, if you’re so inclined; despite the popularity of the product few have seen fit to comment or otherwise accept invitations to respond to requests for positive opinions).

Available only commercially the last few years — in other words, the corn could only be found in select grocery chains and markets — it’s being offered for the first time this year to the home gardener as seed by a big distributor whose name we’re reluctant to speak.

If you do follow the link to the famous seed order house and read the Amaize description, you’ll notice something else that’s new, an assumed-by-purchase “restricted use” clause that limits the buyer to home garden growth and human consumption. The buyer, through purchase, agrees “not to distribute or sell the seed, crop or plants for any other purpose.”

Now seed patents have been around as long as hybrid commercial seed and seed companies. They’re often designed to protect profits derived from specific products. We can’t help but agree that breeders and companies who invest time and money to develop new products should have the result of their investment protected. But we have a hard time accepting that once a grower buys seed he’s unable to do anything else with it. Yes, it’s a controversy of the same sort that music buyers face. Once you’ve purchased music, shouldn’t you be able to share it?

The Amaize restriction is apparently there to protect commercial sale of the harvested product. Its okay that you raise and consume the product in your home, but don’t try to sell it at a road-side stand. There’s no kind of restriction on non-hybrid or heirloom seeds. In fact, the heirloom community is all about sharing what it has without limiting use of any kind. And that’s the rub.

GMO produced seed and the patents connected to it are another story all together. The extent to which farmers are sought out and punished for even accidental cross-breeding has made a particular GMO seed producer to be considered particularly evil. But these sugar-enhanced corns are different as all hybrids are different from lab-made GMO seed. To argue it’s the same thing is foolish.

Expect to see more restricted use when it comes to commercially produced hybrid seed. And expect to see more discussion on restrictions placed on seed used by the home gardener. What restrictions are appropriate and fair? And which are an over-reach by the companies that produce them? Are patent laws — when it comes to food crop seed — fair? There’s a lot to consider, right up to and including the world’s food supply, when thinking about this issue. In the meantime, plan to plant some organic, heirloom corn.

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