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What to do with downed corn?

After a “massive windstorm” hammered property and cropland across the Corn Belt, farmers will be watching their fields anxiously as an already deteriorating corn crop struggles into pollination.

The storm reached near-historic proportions in some areas. “The National Weather Service in Des Moines is calling the wind event ‘the most widespread and damaging one to affect central and east central Iowa since 1998’ and estimated winds from the storm at anywhere from 80 to 110 miles per hour,” Freese-Notis Weather reported on Tuesday.

Jim Fawcett, Iowa State University Extension agronomist, wrote: "There is likely over 100,000 acres of corn [in Iowa] that is flattened, in addition to thousands of trees snapped off, grain bins blown over, and farm buildings destroyed."

On Twitter, Brian Corkill, a Henry County, Illinois, farmer reported from his travels west:  “Some of the worst down corn I have ever seen [is] from State Center, Iowa, east 10 miles along US Highway 30.”

He added, “It is sickening just before pollination.”

Karen Corrigan, an independent agronomist based in central Illinois, reported  that farmers around the Midwest today are asking “lots of questions on what to do with down/flat corn.”

“There is a fair amount of downed corn in eastern Iowa, northwest Illinois, then across northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, mostly north of I-80,” she said. “Seems like about 20% is flat from those I've talked to.”

Management tips

Corrigan offers several management tips for farmers dealing with down corn:

  • Look for signs of recovery. The downed corn in many areas has somewhat straightened overnight.
  • Fungicides on this recovered corn will help to fend off rot on the damaged stalks.
  • Wait until 80% silking before spraying fungicides. Fields are uneven in their growth and you do not want to chance ear deformation with too early of an application.
  • Do not spray fungicides this week. Most fields in these areas are within a week of tasseling or just beginning tassel. This is the absolute most risky time to spray fungicides due to potential ear deformation.
  • Fields that are flat and do not show good signs of recovery within the next week may be lost. Stalks may be broken or kinked disrupting plant growth. Pollination can also be minimal if silks are covered with leaves. Carefully assess the field and its chances before spending money.

Jim Doolittle, an agronomist in southeastern Wisconsin, surveyed his area and walked damaged fields with a customer this morning, finding some green snap and leaning corn, but not “anything that is completely flat.”

He told that in his area there’s “not much we can do about downed corn right now. It is what it is.”

He recommends, though, that you “walk fields with your seed advisor and take notes on what held up the best for hybrid selection next year.

“I would still recommend fungicide at tassel, even (perhaps especially) with a reduced stand,” he said. “Very critical on corn on corn, with the heat and humidity.”

Alison Robertson, an Iowa State University plant pathologist, recommends a conservative approach to fungicide use. "I'm a little hesitant about spraying a crop that has already lost ten to twenty percent of its yield," she says. "I'm skeptical that a fungicide would recover that yield loss."

Robertson also worries about whether fungicides can help prevent rot on damaged corn at this point in the season. "Infection by stalk rot fungi can occur earlier in the season and thus corn may already be infected with stock rot pathogens that no fungicide application will be directly effective against," she says.


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