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Sponsored: Stalk Rot in Corn? Time to Prioritize Harvest

Harvest time is finally here and for most of the growers in the South, this will be the year to forget! Parts of Tennessee encountered the worst drought the state has seen since 2012. On the other end of the spectrum, parts of Kentucky, southern Indiana, and southern Illinois caught more rain than they could handle for most of the year. The Missouri Bootheel couldn’t make up its mind if it wanted to be too dry or too wet!

All of these crazy environmental conditions have led to some serious standability issues and stalk rot in corn. Just about every corn field I’ve been in recently has shown signs of premature death. This is something we see every year, but some years are worse than others and may require a little more planning before harvest.

Stalk Rot in Corn_Rotted Corn Stalk
In most fields, these conditions are only affecting about 1% to 2% of the plants, but some are closer to 15% to 20%. Depending on the severity of the field, you may want to shell some fields first. Fields with a greater occurrence of stalk rot could potentially stalk lodge and cause a major headache at harvest. There are two ways to test the structural integrity of the plant: the pinch test and the push test.

The “pinch test” is pretty simple and it’s just what the name implies. Bend down and pinch the stalk about 6 to 8 inches above the ground. Is it squishy or hard? If the internode is squishy then you most likely have some form of stalk rot in that plant. To get an accurate assessment of the field, you should do this on 20 consecutive plants in a row then multiply that number by five. That will give you a percentage of affected plants. I would also suggest doing this in multiple areas of the field and averaging the numbers to get a feel for the entire field.

The second way to test for stalk rot is the “push test.” If you can push the stalk over enough to touch the adjacent row (assuming this is 30-inch corn) and the plant comes back to its upright position, the stalk is not compromised. If it bends in one of the lower internodes and does not stand back up, you most likely have some form of stalk rot in that plant. Again, you would want to do this to 20 consecutive plants, then multiply by five to gain a percentage of affected plants.

There are several forms of stalk rot that can invade a corn plant, but the two I’ve seen most prevalent this year are Anthracnose stalk rot and Fusarium stalk rot. These pathogens will deteriorate the pith (a major component of structural integrity) in the lower portions of the stalk, which makes that plant vulnerable to late season wind storms.

Austin Scott, CCA | Field Agronomist

For more Agronomic News from Austin Scott, certified crop adviser, please visit his blog or his Agronomy Page on

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