Harvest is here, and I’m optimistic that we will see some great yields. I think however, that we’ll also see more stalk rot and premature plant death due to wet planting conditions, severe storms throughout the growing season and low rainfall periods.

You may notice that some areas of fields are maturing more slowly. Other areas may have died early. When corn plants don’t live for the full season, they don’t achieve maximum potential yields. Even though kernels on “prematurely dead plants” display a black layer, the lack of kernel size indicates they reached this stage too soon.

Why have plants and areas of fields died prematurely this year? Reasons for premature death, that I have witnessed this year, include: moisture stress, nitrogen loss, anthracnose top-dieback, stalk rot and wind/hail damage.

In summary: All of the stresses have likely contributed to the overall rapid shutdown of photosynthetic leaf area. Given the importance of live, viable leaves and their contribution to the grain filling process, the rapid leaf senescence evident in corn fields this year will likely shave some bushels off the upper limit of yield. Plants suffering from such stress struggle to complete grain fill before they die. As plants struggle to complete grain fill, they often resort to cannibalizing the carbohydrates and nutrients from the leaves and stalks in order to fill the grain. This leads to root and stalk rots.

There is nothing that can be done now to prevent premature death; however, growers should walk their fields, monitor the stalk health, and adjust harvest strategies accordingly to manage fields where stalk lodging may be a big problem.