Down Corn

Joe Lauer, Wisconsin Corn Agronomist

Down CornThe August and September USDA-NASS yield estimates indicate that Wisconsin corn farmers are on-track to produce a record yielding corn crop. We are starting to see lodging issues at Arlington as silage harvest begins. Some lodging is due to an earlier wind event occurring around V10 to V12 that flattened plants and caused them to ‘snake’ back up. However, high yields in and of themselves can cause lodging issues.

For a corn plant to remain healthy and free of stalk rot, the plant must produce enough carbohydrates by photosynthesis to keep root cells and pith cells in the stalk alive and enough to meet demands for grain fill. When corn is subjected to stress during grainfill, photosynthetic activity is reduced. As a result, the carbohydrate levels available for the developing ear are insufficient. The corn plant responds to this situation by removing carbohydrates from the leaves, stalk, and roots to the developing ear. While this “cannibalization” process ensures a supply of carbohydrates for the developing ear, the removal of carbohydrates results in premature death of pith cells in the stalk and root tissues, which predisposes plants to root and stalk infection by fungi. As plants near maturity, this removal of nutrients from the stalk to the developing grain results in a rapid deterioration of the lower portion of corn plants in drought stressed fields with lower leaves appearing to be nitrogen stressed, brown, and/or dead.

Other plant stresses which increase the likelihood of stalk rot problems include: loss of leaf tissue due to foliar diseases (such as gray leaf spot or northern corn leaf blight), insects, or hail; injury to the root system by insects or chemicals; high levels of nitrogen in relation to potassium; compacted or saturated soils restricting root growth; and high plant populations.

For some ideas on how to handle down corn, click here.

Further Reading

Carter, P.R. 2015. Wind Lodging Effects on Corn Growth and Grain Yield. Pioneer Insights, click here.

Carter, P.R., and K.D. Hudelson. 1988. Influence of simulated wind lodging on corn growth and grain yield. J. Prod. Agric. 1:295-299.

Nielsen, B., and D. Colville. 1988. Stalk Lodging in Corn: Guidelines for Preventive Management. Agronomy Guide, AY-262 Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

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