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The Differences Between Sweet Corn & Feed Corn

corn-cobs image by Maria Brzostowska from

While sweet corn makes up only about 5 percent of America's total corn production, according to the North Carolina State Cooperative Extension, that's usually what one thinks of upon hearing the word. Feed corn fills the majority of our fields, however, and the two different types have almost as many dissimilarities as similarities. Understanding the differences in usage and growing conditions will allow you to make a more informed decision as to the type of corn you wish to grow in your own garden.

Physical Traits

Field corn is a larger plant than sweet corn. Field corn stalks grow to be 7 to 10 feet tall, whereas sweet corn grows to be only 4 to 7 feet tall. The kernels of sweet corn and field corn are also different. Sweet corn kernels and are more plump than field corn kernels, which are tough and hard. Sweet corn kernels also tend to have more of a yellowish color than field corn kernels, which usually have an orange tint or is multicolored.

Production Characteristics

Sweet corn has a lower overall yield on average than field corn. That means you get less out of each individual stalk, and less overall per acre farmed. Sweet corn is also less resistant to pests and environmental stress factors than its counterpart, according to the North Carolina State Cooperative Extension, thus making it harder to grow than field corn. These stresses include drought, disease, fungus and extreme heat.


Since sweet corn is grown for taste, it is harvested when the kernels are at the milk stage, in late summer or early autumn. At this stage of development they are full of sugar and moisture. Field corn, on the other hand, is left on the stalk in order to gain dietary starch and is not harvested until late autumn. Field corn will usually be harvested in late September or early October, but this depends upon the geographic location where it's being grown. This means field corn needs approximately 60 more days to maturity than sweet corn.

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