Olathe sweet corn growers struggling with earworms

Olathe sweet corn growers struggling with earworms
Published: Jul. 24, 2023 at 12:42 AM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Tuxedo Corn Company is the largest grower of sweet corn in Colorado, but this year it’s facing a big obstacle.

A devastating earworm infestation has affected nearly every field in Olathe. “Our problem is we can’t keep the worms out of the corn,” said John Harold, owner of Tuxedo Corn Company.

It’s slowing down the process. Instead of harvesting, picking, packing, and then shipping them, fieldworkers are going through the field the first time, throwing the bad ears away, coming back the second time, and harvesting the good ears.

“They’re pulling silks out of here, the corn,” said Harold. If it releases, that means worms have been there and have eaten it.”

Harold says they’re throwing away about 45 percent of their supply. “But really, I want people to know that there’s nothing wrong with the corn as far as flavor and tenderness,” said Harold.

The corn is edible if the wormy sections are removed, but it’s not what Kroger, the main buyer, wants for its customers. Harold says he wants to provide the best product. So on Tuesday, he fired off a letter to Senator Michael Bennet.

“So what we’re looking for is not money or some studies,” said Harold. “We’re trying to find somebody that has more expertise than we have here, of maybe what’s going wrong, why we’re having this dramatic problem.”

Harold says some factors that could explain the infestation are the absence of a freeze in April, which normally kill the moths, and the big winds from the southwest, which probably blew moths in.

One thing to note is that Tuxedo Corn Co. will have plenty of corn for the Sweet Corn Festival on August 5.