Southern Rust – Crop Protection Network

Southern Rust. Credit: Crop Protection Network

Common Rust and Southern Rust infect corn in the late summer. The diseases generate raised spores known as “pustules” on the surface of leaves, leading to reduced yield  and poor grain quality.

Common rust (Puccinia sorghi) and southern rust (Puccinia polysora) fungi are unable to overwinter in the Midwest and require a host plant to remain alive. The spores created by rust diseases are transported by wind to the Midwest from Southern states.

Temperatures ranging from 61–77° fuel the growth of rust diseases. Cool and humid temperatures, especially when exhibited overnight, can further drive the development of the fungi.

As long as the weather conditions are right for rust diseases, the cycle of spore development will continue. The return of hot and dry weather can prevent further development of the fungus and kill off the spores.


Rust can reduce yield and decrease grain quality. Foliar damage from rust diseases can interfere with water  transpirationand reduce photosynthetic leaf area.

Nutrients designated to support plant growth are rerouted in response to the damage incurred by leaves. Damage from rust diseases deplete carbohydrate reserves in corn leaves. As a result, the plant will begin sourcing the nutrients from stalks and roots, leading to reduced yield and stalk rot.

Common Rust – Crop Protection Network

Common Rust. Credit: Crop Protection Network

Scouting for Rust Diseases 

While common rust has less of an impact on yield, southern rust has been found to reduce yield by 25 bu/acre in corn with no fungicide application. The fungi can begin to infect plants under favorable conditions in as little as six hours.

Southern rust signs are evident  on the upper leaf surface and are round, as opposed to elongated in plants infected with common rust. The pustules will be orange compared to the darker color of common rust. Overtime, southern rust pustules will become brown or black.

Common rust pustules are found on the upper and lower leaf surface and are oblong. Common rust pustules will be brick red in appearance and can coalesce to kill parts of leaves. In order to determine the difference between common and southern rust pustules, use a magnifying lens to inspect the leaf surface.


Planting early is one of the best ways to reduce corn’s vulnerability to rust diseases. Corn planted late in the season is most susceptible to experiencing yield loss and grain damage. Many hybrids are also equipped with resistance to rust diseases, though the extent to which they are protected from the fungus can vary.

When pustules are observed on 50% of scouted plants, it is advised to begin implementing  a treatment plan. Fungicides can also be used to treat corn infected with common and southern rust. Be sure to consult with your local Latham representative to determine the best management options for rust diseases.