Varanasi, India

Indian Institute of Vegetable Research

Attributes of maize genotype for baby corn production --Kumar, S, Kalloo, G Baby corn is a diversified product of the maize plant, where baby ears are harvested before fertilization and consumed as a fresh or canned vegetable. In fact, young dehusked ears of maize have been eaten as a vegetable by the farmers for a long time in Thailand, Taiwan and China. In the recent past, it is a modern food habit, which accepted tender-dehusked ears as a cooking ingredient for use in salad, soup, pickle and several Chinese preparations. The canning industry has made baby corn even more important as an industrial crop in countries like Thailand, where baby corn production technology is a success story. The success can be visualized by observing the export figures of canned baby corn, which increased dramatically from 67t, worth US $38,059 in 1974 to 36,761 t, worth US $33 million in 1992 (Paroda & Chamnan." Baby corn production technology in Thailand. A success story". APARI publication, 1994). Thailand is the world leader in the export of both fresh and canned baby corn and the world market for fresh and canned baby corn is expanding very rapidly (Jason. "World market for fresh and canned baby corn". RAP market information Bulletin No. 5, 1995). In many other countries like Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Guatemala, Nicaragua, etc., baby corn production technology is gaining ground and baby corn is emerging as an export oriented vegetable. Baby corn production technology consists of several components like specific maize variety/hybrid, specific production practices, post harvest practices etc. Among these, the most important one is specific maize variety/hybrid suitable for baby corn production. Albeit any kind of maize genotype can be grown for baby corn production in the kitchen garden, for commercial purpose a variety should be characterized by certain following genetic traits.

Early maturity: Among the hierarchy of baby corn varietal attributes, earliness is one which attracts vegetable growers habituated to harvesting short duration crops. Earliness of the variety not only provides the opportunity to take baby corn as a catch crop, but also helps the crop escape many of those biotic and abiotic stresses which appear after the flowering stage. Plants of an ideal baby corn variety should produce all the ears (of silk emergence stage) between 45 to 55 days of duration.

Prolificacy (more number of cobs/plant): Ideal plant ideotype for dent corn/field corn (corn for grain purpose) is two ears per plant with maximum number of bold kernels. But for baby corn production, an ideal plant should bear at least three ears per plant without losing quality, size and shape of young ears. In corn, prolificacy is highly influenced and negatively correlated with the planting density. Therefore, with respect to prolificacy, the variety should not only bear more cobs but also it should be tolerant to high density planting. Selection of small tassel may be the one criterion to select genotypes tolerant to high density planting. Furthermore, the advice of Dr. Galinat for yield improvement of field corn through increased plant density (Galinat. "Canopy and yield enhancement per acre with dense populations". MNL70:67,1996; Galinat. "Reverse maize breeding for high density populations".MNL73:91, 1999), can also be taken into account by the baby corn breeders.

Synchronized ear emergence: Synchronized earing reduces the harvesting and storage cost of young ears drastically. Therefore, for commercial production purposes, the variety should be preferably a single cross hybrid. Even in certain single cross hybrids, synchronization can not be achieved, especially during second or third ear emergence. This problem can be solved either by developing baby corn hybrids having an additional attribute in the form of sugary (su1)/shrunken (sh2) gene(s) or over-sized ears can be harvested for grain production. In the former case, over sized ears can be harvested 15-18 days after fertilization (at milking stage)as sweet corn. However, this alternative is less attractive because there is no taste advantage in using a sweet corn variety over a dent corn variety for baby corn production, as immature ears are harvested and at this stage sugar is not accumulated in kernels. Further, crop and seeds of sweet corn varieties are more prone to certain insects and storage pests.

Yellow kernel: Yellow immature kernel with uniform row arrangement is the prescribed standard for the international market. Hence, a yellow seeded corn variety fulfills one of the criteria for a baby corn cultivar. Plant height: Plant height and ear height on the plant affect ease of picking. Optimum plant height varies from 2 to 2.5 m with the preferable height of lower and upper ears at least 1.5 ft and not more then 6 ft, respectively. Proper ear height on the plant reduces the cost of picking, which requires hand labor.

Please Note: Notes submitted to the Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter may be cited only with consent of the authors.

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