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Why Oh Why Is My Corn Tipping Back?

Why is my corn tipping back?

Projections are for another bumper corn crop in Ohio and Indiana.
Time will tell if we beat the average yield for both states of 177 Bu./A. from
2013. As I travel around both states, however, it is not difficult to find ears
of corn and spots in the field where corn is tipping back. With such ideal
conditions during pollination, many growers are wondering why this is
happening. To understand this we may need to review a little about pollination.

With the cool temperatures this
past year and the wide range in planting dates, there was plenty of pollen to
go around, so it was not a lack of pollen. In fact, most kernels actually
pollinated and then tipped back. The main reason the corn tipped back was that
the butt end kernels pollinated much sooner than the tip end kernels.
Therefore, the plant aborted the tip end kernels to concentrate on the earlier
pollinated kernels. In general, there is only about a four day window (it can
range from three to five days depending on temperature) for an individual ear
to pollinate the kernels that it will keep. Any kernels that pollinate after
this time will generally abort. That four day window is extremely important!

There are quite a few conditions that will cause corn silks to
come out slower. Here are just a few that I have seen in 2014:


  • Nitrogen - This year
    especially, I am seeing a lot of nitrogen deficiency (as the picture above
    shows). Nitrogen deficiency causes silks to come out slower, therefore
    increasing the amount of tipping back. Lower nitrogen rates also delays
    pollination so corn may come out of the field with higher moisture.
  • Populations - The higher the
    plant populations, the slower the silks will come out. This is just due to
    more competition.
  • Genetics - Hybrids with more
    potential kernels require more moisture to push out the silks, therefore
    you will see more tipping back on hybrids with more potential ovules.
  • Drought stress -  Lack of moisture
    will cause silks to push out slower, resulting in tipping back.

There are numerous other
things that can cause tipping back such as compaction, low fertility, levels
and soil type.  The main causes I have seen this year are nitrogen, plant
populations, and genetics.

For more Agronomic News from Mark Apelt Beck’s Regional Product Specialist and Certified Crop Advisor, please visit his Agronomy Page on

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