Jan 5, 2009
Ohio Sweet Corn

McMaster Farms grows and sells 250 acres of fresh sweet corn in Columbiana, Ohio.

In addition, McMaster Farms runs about 100 acres of sweet corn from a neighboring farm through its packing shed, which also serves as a retail outlet. The corn is sold to farm markets, roadside stands and chain stores, said Dave McMaster, who runs the business with his wife, Carrie.

The farm has a wide variety of customers.

“An older gentleman comes to the farm and buys two ears almost every day,” Dave said. “Others take full semi loads.”

The McMasters grow primarily bicolor, augmented supersweet varieties. Harvest usually runs from early July to early October. The corn is irrigated. After picking, it’s brought to the packing shed, where it’s packaged any way a customer wants it, he said.

Carrie said the sweet corn often is packaged five-dozen per bag.

Dave, a third-generation farmer, oversees mainly the crop and field work, while his wife oversees sales, office and employee work. Dave and Carrie took over the family business in 2000, she said.

McMaster Farms, located in northeast Ohio, delivers produce to many of its customers in Pittsburgh and Cleveland by truck, Carrie said.

On top of sweet corn, the farmers grow pumpkins (125 acres), gourds, squash and other fall items, along with mums and several hundred acres of field crops. They started growing tomatoes last year. Pumpkin harvest usually starts in early September and overlaps with sweet corn harvest. That’s a busy time for the farm, Carrie said.

“Around Labor Day, we start getting swamped,” she said. “It’s a lot of hours and a lot of work, but we take pride in what we do.”

Dave and Carrie have a few full-time employees to help them year round. They hire another 40 or so during the busy season, she said.

The pumpkins are sold via farmers’ markets and chain stores, though some are sold out of the packing facility, she said.

Carrie mentioned the weather (dry one minute, raining the next) and food safety inspections as major thorns in the farm’s side, but she saved most of her criticism for Country of Origin Labeling rules, which went into effect last September.

Thus far, the new COOL rules have been an expensive burden for the McMasters. Carrie estimated that complying with the new rules had cost the farm more than $5,000 as of November, on top of the extra labor and time devoted to coming up with new traceback and labeling procedures. They had to hire an extra employee just to put labels on all their packages, she said.

McMaster Farms handles a lot of produce for a lot of different customers, who all seem to want different labels. Some stores are OK with simple “Made in the USA” labels, while others want more specific information. COOL could put some growers out of business, Carrie said.

“Some farmers will stop selling to grocery stores,” she said. “They can’t endure that cost.”

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