(April 13, 5 p.m.) A charitable contribution program marks the opening of this season’s Florida sweet corn deal.

The Maitland-based Florida Sweet Corn Exchange has launched a promotional program that has corn growers donating money to retailers’ charitable programs.

The program, scheduled to run during a two-week period of the retail chain’s choosing April 19-May 16, has exchange members contributing five cents per crate purchased from an exchange member to the chain’s charities.

The corn growers expect to generate $80,000-100,000 to charitable causes, said Florida Sweet Corn Exchange president Paul Allen, vice president and partner with Pahokee, Fla.-based R.C. Hatton Farms, which markets corn through Hugh H. Branch Inc.

“We as growers want to partner with retail chains to support charities of their choice,” he said. “I think this could be a good thing for the supplier and for the user to partner up and to join efforts together to support such charities.”

Allen said he serves on the board of directors of several south Florida charities and said he sees firsthand how lower contributions have affected the non-profit organizations’ work.

The grower-developed program was also designed to help increase movement from mid-April to late May, said Jason Stemm, associate vice president of New York-based Lewis & Neale Inc., the exchange’s marketing and public relations agency.

Belle Glade, Fla., spring production normally ramps up in late March as Homestead, Fla. winter production starts to decline.

After severe freezes, the harvest started weeks later than normal. Allen said growers were doing limited harvesting April 13 and said he expected Belle Glade volume to hit April 20-24. The deal, he said, should see strong movement in late April.

“It will be very manageable between late April and early May,” Allen said.

Crops were recovering from the Jan. 22 freeze that destroyed most of Palm Beach County winter and early spring corn and green beans. Allen said the weather made for a very difficult year for all south Florida farmers.

While winter volume comes from Homestead, the colder temperatures, which also hit in February, damaged early spring plantings and forced growers to replant.

The growers expect volume to be at normal levels in time for the April 25 Sweet Corn Fiesta at the Palm Beach County Fairgrounds in West Palm Beach, Fla. The annual festival also features the National Sweet Corn Eating Championship, an International Federation of Competitive Eating- sanctioned event.

The south Florida deal normally ends Memorial Day (May 25). Georgia growers normally start harvests in late May.

The exchange offers educational materials on proper corn handling to retailers, including a training video and a backroom handling poster.

Consumer point-of-sale material is available, including recipe leaflets, tear-off pads and price cards, as well as posters and balloons for display construction. The exchanges offers a “5 Fast Ways to Turn Supersweet Corn into Gold” merchandising poster.

The exchange has developed new customizable price cards that feature Florida corn growers and their families. The cards can be used to promote the charitable fundraising promotion in store displays and advertisements.

The exchange also plans to run radio advertisements and work with chefs to promote corn on local television morning and noon news shows throughout Florida.

The exchange is investing $335,000 into the promotional programs. That includes a $100,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant through the farm bill, Stemm said.

Florida shippers normally move one million crates a week during the spring harvest peak.