Identifying corn stalk rots
Stalk rots are caused by several different fungi and bacteria which are part of the complex of microorganisms that decompose dead plant material in the soil. They survive from one growing season to the next in soil, in infested corn residues or on seed. Stalk rot pathogens enter the corn plant in a variety of ways. The spores may be blown into the base of the leaf sheath where they may germinate and grow into the stalk. Spores may enter directly into a plant through wounds made by corn borers, hail or mechanical injury. When fungi are present in soil or infested residue as either spores or mycelium, they may infect the root system causing root rot early in the growing season and later grow up into the stalk causing stalk rot.
Stalk rot becomes a problem when plants are stressed during the grain filling stage of development. Water shortage, extended periods of cloudy weather, hail damage, corn borer infestation, low potassium in relation to nitrogen, leaf diseases and other stresses that occur in August and September may be associated with an increase in stalk rot.
Losses from stalk rots vary from season to season and from region to region. Yield losses of 10 to 20% may occur on susceptible hybrids. Tolls greater than 50% have been reported in localized areas. Losses may be direct losses due to poor filling of the ears or lightweight and poorly finished ears or indirect through harvest losses because of stalk breakage or lodging. Harvest losses may be reduced if fields are scouted 40-60 days after pollination to check for symptoms of stalk rot. Stalk rot can be detected by either pinching stalks or pushing on stalks. If more than 10-15 percent of the stalks are rotted, the field should be harvested as soon as possible.
Management of stalk rots of corn should include the following:
∙ Select hybrids with good stalk strength and lodging characteristics.
∙ Plant at recommended plant populations for that hybrid.
∙ Follow proper fertility practices.
∙ Avoid or minimize stress to corn (especially during pollination and grain fill).
∙ Harvest in a timely manner.
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