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Colorado Farmer Raises Blue Corn
The sight of golden kernels of corn no longer has the same impact on the Nate Cranson farm east of La Junta, Colorado. What catches the most attention nowadays is blue corn.
Cranson grows and markets the specialty corn crop and, after seven years, he is convinced that the popularity of blue corn, used for tortillas and corn chips, is growing. "It has a better flavor than regular corn. Blue corn seems lighter and less filling. Chips and tortillas made with it have a dark, bluish appearance," he says.
Growing up on his father's farm, the 35-year-old knew the ins and outs of growing traditional crops like alfalfa, corn and wheat. One day a friend of the family showed him an ear of blue corn she had gotten from an Indian reservation. The heavy ears were filled with bluish-black kernels that were a staple in the diet of the Indians of the American Southwest for centuries and held special ceremonial significance.
"We planted our fist blue corn from that one ear, and kept it in our garden for a couple years," Cranson says. "I heard of another grower in the San Luis Valley who was producing blue corn, and I called him to see if there was a market." That grower told Cranson he would purchase his blue corn, and Cranson went into the crop commercially.
Year to year, Cranson completes a marketing plan and plants according to his predictions. His acreage ranges from a few acres to as many as 60.
Blue corn was a good choice for an alternate crop because Cranson was already equipped to grow corn. Production costs are similar to field corn and he grows his own seed since the variety is open-pollinated rather than hybridized. One disadvantage is a lack of stalk strength that often leads to 30 to 40% field losses in high winds or bad weather. Another is that yields are quite a bit lower at 30 to 55 bu. per acre. However, market prices are 3 or 4 times higher, depending on the year. Cranson thinks the crop will gow nearly anywhere in the U.S. He has a 120-day growing season in Colorado but says his blue corn crop matures much earlier than that.
Marketing is difficult and Cranson builds his own customer relationships to assure sales of the product. Most come from referrals and word-of-mouth. Each sale is negotiated individually with customers, says Cranson. "It's tough to find dependable markets."
Cranson recommends that a grower of any specialty crop like blue corn not devote too much acreage about 10% of the total is a good average. "Start easy into a crop, and if it looks good, increase your input in dollars or time," he advises.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Nate Cranson, 30934 E. Highway 194, La Junta, Colo. 81050 (ph 303 384-7929).
Reprinted courtesy the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

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1987 - Volume #11, Issue #3