Organic Seed Alliance and the University of Wisconsin–Madison are proud to announce the release of a new sweet corn variety called ‘Who Gets Kissed?’. The open-pollinated variety is the first in a series of organic sweet corn releases developed through participatory plant breeding, where farmers and formal breeders collaborate on farm-based breeding projects to improve agricultural crops.
“Our approach to plant breeding is what sets ‘Who Gets Kissed?’ apart from other sweet corn varieties in the marketplace,” says Micaela Colley, executive director of Organic Seed Alliance. “’Who Gets Kissed?’ was not only bred under organic farming conditions, but organic farmers were equal partners in the breeding effort.”
The story of the new variety’s development starts with Minnesota farmer Martin Diffley. Diffley couldn’t find an organic sweet corn variety with adequate vigor and that tolerated his farm’s cool soils. He approached Dr. John Navazio, OSA’s senior scientist at the time, who put Martin in touch with University of Wisconsin–Madison sweet corn breeder Bill Tracy. Tracy was already selecting for cool soil emergence in sweet corn, and a collaborative plant-breeding project emerged.
‘Who Gets Kissed?’ is an open-pollinated sweet corn variety with yellow and white kernels that yields well, tolerates cool soils, and is resistant to common rust and corn smut. It also demonstrates superior flavor and sweetness.
“Most of the sweet corn varieties in the marketplace that demonstrate similar traits are hybrids,” says University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student Adrienne Shelton, who has worked on the project as a member of Tracy’s lab. “Hybrids are developed to be genetically uniform, where the ears are the same color and same size, and they mature at the same time. ‘Who Gets Kissed?’ has similar traits, but was developed for organic growers who appreciate a more diverse, open-pollinated sweet corn.”
“And because it’s open-pollinated,” she adds, “growers are encouraged to save and select seed from their harvests to adapt the variety to their own local conditions and market needs.”
The variety’s name is based on a game played at corn husking bees – a historic community event that coupled husking corn with fun activities, such as dancing. Corn was much more genetically diverse back then, and when a person found an ear with all red kernels, known as a “pokeberry ear,” instead of yellow kernels, they could choose one person among the group to kiss.
The new variety is available for purchase through High Mowing Organic Seeds.
“’Who Gets Kissed?’ is an example of the amazing results that can be achieved in open-pollinated and collaborative breeding, where the consumer, farmer, breeder, seed grower and all other stakeholders are involved,” says Tom Stearns, founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds. “Innovative varieties with a dynamic process like this connect the dots and foster a deeper engagement in developing the food system of the future.”
This organic sweet corn breeding project was funded in part by the Organic Farming Research Foundation and USDA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).