OSAGE — Steve Rachut of Osage was 12 years old when he took his first sweet corn to a farmer’s market. His love for sweet corn continued through high school with an FFA project and even while in college, where he continued to raise sweetcorn.
Rachut, along with his wife, Beth, operates an ever-expanding sweet corn business, Steve’s Sweetcorn, which now includes 11 acres of production.
“I liked to be in the garden, and I wanted to raise my own crop,” Rachut said. “My parents were raising onions and carrots, and Dad thought I should raise another crop.”
Rachut said he treats sweet corn as a business. “It has to be managed differently than regular corn.”
Some of Rachut’s practices are similar to growing field corn, while other practices vary.
“I plant sweet corn where soybeans have been the previous year, using a field cultivator to prepare the seedbed,” he said. “I have a White Planter and plant four, 30-inch rows, then skip a row which will be left open so we can drive down it during harvest.
“My fertilization program is pretty similar to field corn, except I apply all my nitrogen through dry fertilizer.”
Rachut said he is limited on what kind of herbicide he can use on sweet corn.
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“My herbicide program is pretty good, and we don’t have to do hand weeding,” he said.
Rachut said he plants as soon as he can in the spring, from mid- to late April. He only plants 16,000 to 18,000 kernels per acre, because with lower populations, he gets bigger ears. When one planting is emerging from the ground, he then plants the next planting.
“During a season, we have about 12 to 15 different plantings, so there is fresh sweet corn up into the fall,” he said. “We use four different varieties of multi-colored corn. Early planted varieties mature in 68 days, while later planted varieties have an 80-day maturing date. The varieties I use make all the difference.”
The Rachuts start picking sweet corn about mid-July. They hire high school and college students to help them during the summer. When they return to school, they hire older workers and retirees to help with harvesting.
“We pick and market six days a week. Our first crew arrives at 7 a.m. to help pick. We drive the four-wheeler and wagon down the open row. The crew picks from the two rows on each side of the wagon. We pick each row twice during the season,” Rachut said. “A second crew arrives at 8 a.m. to sort and inspect each ear to make sure ears are good size, are completely filled and there are no bugs.”
Though sweet corn is hard to grow, Rachut said the hardest part of the business is finding and developing markets. They sell daily at their stand in Osage, to a local grocery store, through farmer markets in Mason City and Clear Lake and to customers who want to freeze or can corn.
“Finding good labor is also challenging,” Rachut said. “But over the years, we have been blessed with good people who have worked for us.”
Rachut said he learned how to grow sweet corn from seed dealers, online and from others in the industry and had learned a lot through trial and error.