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Field Corn vs. Sweet Corn

Though Sweet Corn and Field Corn are related, they aren’t exactly the same. The main difference between field corn and sweet corn is the taste. The other differences are the harvest stage and the usage of these two types. Let’s see what they have in common and what differs them from each other.

Field Corn

In North America and other developed countries field corn (also known as grain or seed corn) is primarily grown for animal feed, ethanol production, DDGS, gluten feed, high-oil feed corn, manufactured goods and industrial uses. A smaller portion of field corn is used for corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup as human consumption.

Field corn grown for livestock feed and ethanol production is allowed to mature fully before being shelled off the cob and then being stored in silos, pits, bins or grain "flats". Field corn can also be harvested as high-moisture corn, shelled off the cob and piled and packed like silage for fermentation; or the entire plant may be chopped while still very high in moisture with the resulting silage either loaded and packed in plastic bags, piled and packed in pits, or blown into and stored in vertical silos.

Field corn can come in a variety of colors but most often times referred to as yellow gold. Some of the other colors that field corn can be found in are cream, black, brown, bright blue, light blue, purple, maroon, brown, white, calico, orange, red, magenta, pink and scarlet. The principal field corn varieties are dent corn, flint corn, flour corn (also known as soft corn) which includes blue corn, and waxy corn.

Field corn is used in many consumer goods found in grocery stores in items like crayons, peanut butter, chewing gum, taco shells, toothpaste, marsh mellows, soft drink sweeteners, flour products, and paper to name a few. Although not grown for human consumption, people still pick ears of field corn and cook it on the cob or eat it raw.

Sweet Corn

Sweet corn (also known as sugar corn or pole corn) is a cereal with a high sugar content. Field corn accounts for more than 99 percent of the corn acreage in the United States while Sweet corn makes up less than 1 percent of all corn grown in the U.S. each year. Sweet corn is commonly purchased fresh (corn on the cob), frozen or canned for eating. Sweet corn can not make popcorn due to the higher levels of starch.

Sweet corn is harvested when immature (or at milk stage) approximately twenty (20) days after silk  at the top of the ear gets brown which means that the kernels inside are developed. The leaves that wrap the ear look nice and green (sometimes a little bit brown around the outside edges). Sweet corn is usually shorter than field corn, the kernels are not dented - they are yellow and/or white, round and plump.

After harvesting the fresh sweet corn the vegetation has uses as cows, sheep or goats for a feed source. The dried husks can be used for bedding or mulch. While the remaining stalks can be used as part of the composting ingredient.

Common Diseases and Viruses in Sweet Corn:

Dwarf Mosaic Virus (MDMV)
Dwarf Mosaic Virus (MDMV)
  • Leaf Blight

  • Common Rust

  • Common Smut

  • Mosaic Virus

  • Stalk Rot

  • Crazy Top

  • Gray Leaf Spot

  • Maize Chlorotic Dwarf Virus

  • Corn Leaf Spot

  • Seedling Blight

  • Stewart’s Bacterial Wilt

Common Pests Found in Sweet Corn:

Fall Armyworm
Fall Armyworm
  • Armyworm

  • Black Cutworm

  • Common Stalk Borer

  • Corn Earworm

  • Corn Flea Beetle

  • Corn Leaf Aphid

  • Corn Rootworms

  • European Corn Borer

  • Fall Armyworm

  • Japanese Beetle

  • Sap Beetles

  • Seedcorn Maggot

  • Slugs

  • Western Bean Cutworm

  • White Grubs

  • Wireworms

Beneficial Insects:

  • Ladybugs

  • Green and Brown Lacewings

  • Parasitoid Wasps

  • Syrphid or Hover Flies

  • Insidious Flower Bug

  • Damsel Bug


So what’s common and what’s different between field and sweet corn?

  1. Though the planting and growing process is quite similar, the harvest time for sweet corn happens earlier than for field corn that needs to dry out first and then be harvested.

  2. Since field corn is not as sweet as sweet corn, it is not “designed” for direct human consumption while sweet corn’s main purpose is to feed people.

  3. Despite the field’s corn inability to feed people with their cobs directly from the field, it has much more production purposes than sweet corn which makes it more popular to grow.

  4. “Corn on the Cob” is the most suited name for differentiating Sweet Corn from Field Corn  


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