Listen to Your Corn Ears

Take notes during harvest to perform post-season evaluations. ( Darrell Smith )

It’s been a wild year. From planting challenges to hurricane-like weather to windstorms and everything in between, even the best hybrids and varieties have been put to the test.

While you’re in the heart of harvest, take notes on what you’re seeing. Use this information to prepare for what could be challenging storage issues, as well as help you pick hybrids and varieties for next year.

Ear Molds

They attack each precious kernel, and there’s little you can do to stop them this year. Fungicides don’t penetrate the husks, so when you find ear molds, all you can do is learn and set expectations.

“One of the biggest risks to grain quality and value is aflatoxin molds, which occur more so in certain parts of the U.S.,” says Jim McDermott, DeKalb technical agronomist.

While molds and diseases typically occur in wet or humid conditions, dry conditions can be just as dangerous. This is true for penalties at the elevator or when selling to livestock owners for feed.

“Aflatoxin is a disease that shows up when we have drought conditions, and especially when we have nights above 70 degrees,” McDermott explains.

Insect Damage

They fly, crawl and bite, and with each attack your corn suffers. Insect damage reduces weight, makes the plant more susceptible to disease and causes storage concerns.

“You want to be looking for any signs of insect damage on corn ears,” suggests Phil Krieg, Syngenta field agronomist.

Pay attention to any damage on ear tips because you’ll want to harvest and store that grain separately.

 “You want to dry it down to a lower moisture — like 14% — so molds and other issues don’t grow in the bin," Krieg continues.

Grain in bins will be more prone to gathering chaff, dust and trash from damaged kernels. Keep a close eye on these bins for hot spot as aeration might not be as effective with excess trash in some pockets.

Consider what genetics can do for you next year. If you have a lot of ear molds this year, look for genetic resistance next year. If you don’t plant traited hybrids and notice big insect issues in fields, it might be a good idea to consider traits or foliar fungicides to manage pest issues.

To read 12 tips from Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie to help you weatherproof your harvest, visit