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Farmers Get New Technology to Keep Corn Fresh

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Sweet corn is getting a cold reception from the Eden Valley Growers Co-op. The Co-op Wednesday unveiled its new $170,000 corn hydro-cooler. The advanced agricultural technology, partially funded by Erie County, will help local farmers better preserve their produce and expand their selling market.

George Zittel is a fifth generation farmer. So, he knows all about farming, and he's seen a lot of advancement in his some forty some years of growing produce. But even Zittel says this is big - very big.

"Oh, it's huge. It's probably the size of a tractor trailer," said Zittel. "It has huge compressors because it has to chill water that as the product, that is mostly going to be corn, slides through on a moving belt, ice water -- and it isn't chunks of ice but cold water I think at 42 degrees -- is just tumbling down through."

And within an hour, that icy cold water will cool down the corn's internal temperature by about 45 degrees. Zittel says freshly harvested, warm corn right from the field is sweet. But he says it doesn't stay that way for long without help.

"We still have to do the very professional job of harvesting it correctly, picking up the right hybrids, doing all the things that we've done, but we were missing this one part of the puzzle, and that is to get the proper refrigeration to it as quickly as possible," said Zittel. "Because sweet corn has a sugary taste and those sugars turn to starch real quick if you don't get that temperature out. So, the quicker you get the temperature out, the longer that sugary taste stays in the flavor of the corn."

Eight thousand pounds of corn can be deep chilled each hour. The produce is then put in conventional coolers and shipped off to market. In the past, Zittel says they only sold to places they could deliver to in a day. Now, using the hydro-cooler, the eight farmers from the co-op will get an extra three to four days of shelf life from their corn. And that means being able to ship their produce to distant markets as far away as Canada.