Aug 23, 2011 • By

Down in the valley

During a recent visit to General Mills’ agricultural research center in Le Sueur, Minn. – the valley where the Green Giant was created – I gained a greater appreciation for the planning and thoughtfulness that goes into growing and harvesting the season’s freshest, most flavorful sweet corn – all with an eye toward sustainability.

So I wanted to pass along a little bit of what I learned.

Green Giant’s agronomists have incredible passion for and dedication to quality, innovation and environmental stewardship.

The brand’s commitment to sustainable agriculture dates back more than a century. As early as the 1930s, Green Giant was an early adopter of crop rotation – well before it was a widespread agronomic practice. And in the 1940s, the brand was ahead of its time by identifying ways to minimize pesticide use.

Green Giant’s work to improve its environmental footprint has continued to evolve. Since 1980, Green Giant has successfully cut the use of insecticides by 85 percent and reduced the number of applications by 40 percent.

Green Giant is also helping farmers improve the performance of seeds in the field.

The photo below shows how Green Giant’s high-yielding varieties of sweet corn have dramatically reduced the amount of land needed to grow one case of canned corn. The far left of the photo (the red area) represents the 1970s, when it took 300 square feet of land to produce one case of corn.

As you follow the photo to the right (in the blue area), you can see how Green Giant has gradually improved yields while reducing land requirements. Today Green Giant requires only 120 square feet to produce the same case of corn – a 60 percent reduction (far right of photo). All of these yield improvements were made over the past 40 years.

Company agricultural experts continue to work hand-in-hand with farmers and external suppliers from planting to harvest to share their best sweet corn hybrids and best practices on agronomics, plant nutrient management, weed and insect management and other sustainable agriculture practices that Green Giant has developed over the past century.

Before a single kernel of corn is planted, Green Giant’s team of agricultural experts have spent months carefully considering when to plant, how to plant, what methods to use for weed and insect control and when the optimal time will be to harvest.

Our agronomists use traditional, conventional seed breeding techniques to select the ideal traits that will result in a near-perfect seed. The optimal seed needs to perform well in the field; deliver superior flavor, tenderness, cut and appearance; and offer built-in resistance to weeds, disease, drought and insects.

Green Giant tests more than 3,000 of these sweet corn varieties each year in country farm fields along the Minnesota River Valley. Agronomists monitor the performance weekly of each variety. Ultimately, less than 5 percent will be selected to introduce the next growing season.

The best-in-class seeds will be added to the agricultural research center’s climate controlled seed library. This collection houses more than 80,000 historical varieties of seeds dating back decades. In addition to corn, the library catalogs peas, green beans, asparagus and edamame.

With the ideal seed identified, Green Giant works closely with growers – many of whom are second or third generation farmers with the brand – as they get ready to plant their crops.

As harvest approaches, Green Giant has identified that fleeting moment of perfection when the sweet corn is at its optimal peak. Impressively, Green Giant has developed a system to ensure sweet corn is picked within eight hours of peak maturity in order to deliver optimal taste and texture.

Green Giant sweet corn is then rushed from field to freezer in less than eight hours to ensure that consumers can enjoy farm fresh taste year-round.

Watch this video to learn more about Green Giant’s storied history in the Minnesota River Valley and its commitment to sustainable agriculture.