Baby corn, a specialty maize, has huge potential to emerge as a money spinner for farmers. There are several reasons for that, apart from the obvious ones like the high prices and rapidly growing demand for baby corn in the domestic and export markets. For one, the baby corn crop takes very little time to grow, making it possible to raise three to four crops in a year on the same land.
Besides, the crop’s stalks and leaves, being nutritious animal feed, can provide fodder for cattle throughout the year. Moreover, several vegetable and pulse crops, as well as flowers can be grown in between the rows of baby corn as intercrops for additional income. There is also scope for value addition of baby corn through processing and preservation.
Indian maize scientists have identified plant varieties and hybrids that are suitable for baby corn production and have drawn up a package of agronomic practices for growing them.
Baby corns are essentially young, small and slender unfertilised cobs of maize that are tender enough to be eaten raw as well as in cooked form, or can be preserved for deferred consumption. These cobs are usually plucked from the plants within one to three days of the emergence of cob silk when this hair-like growth is just 2 to 3 cms long. The baby corn crop normally completes its life cycle in 50 to 55 days.
The head of the New Delhi-based Directorate of Maize Research, Dr Sain Das, maintains that India can not only be a major producer of baby corn but also an exporter because of the low cost of production and strategic location of the country to cater to the export markets in the European and Gulf nations. At present, Thailand is the world’s top producer and exporter of baby corn. India has the potential to compete with it.
In 2008, India exported over 267 tonnes of baby corn worth $1 million. These exports are expected to grow to over 750 tonnes, worth $3 million, in 2009.
A booklet on the production technology and value addition of baby corn, brought out by the Maize Research Directorate, points out that a single crop of baby corn, involving an expenditure of Rs 15,420 a hectare, can yield a gross return of over Rs 67,500 per hectare, including the value of fodder.
This estimation is based on the assumption that one hectare’s produce of around 12 quintals of baby corn can be sold for around Rs 60,000 at the rate of Rs 5,000 per quintal (Rs 50 per kg), and about 150 quintals of fodder for Rs 7,500 at Rs 50 per quintal. A farmer growing three to four crops of baby corn can, thus, easily earn annually between Rs 1,00,000 and Rs 2,00,000 per hectare.
Though baby corn so far have only a small, albeit niche, market in the country, confined largely to big cities, their demand is set to grow fast in future due to changing tastes and realisation of the better food value of this culinary delicacy. Their nutritional quality is deemed superior to many seasonal vegetables because of their rich content of vitamins, iron and notably, phosphorus.
Besides, they are a good source of dietary fibrous protein and are easy to digest. Apart from this, even if pesticides are sprayed on the crop, they cannot penetrate the natural vegetative wrapping of the cobs, making baby corn safe to eat.
Maize hybrid HM4, developed by the Haryana agricultural university at its Karnal research centre, has been found to be a very good variety for producing baby corn in the northern region, especially in and around the National Capital Region.
It has a desirable cob length, an attractive cob colour and a sweet taste besides a high yield of 12,015 quintals of baby corn a hectare. Suitable high-yielding baby corn varieties are available for growing in other regions of the country as well.
However, marketing is still a problem for baby corn especially in the areas away from big cities. A baby corn-based industry to produce value-added products is also yet to come up in a big way. At present, only one or two units at Panipat in Haryana are producing baby corn pickle for export.
Once more industrial units come up for canning, dehydration, freezing and processing of baby corn, the cultivation of this highly lucrative crop is bound to get a big boost.