What Can Your Ears Tell You About Harvest, Storage and 2021?

Moldy corn ears ( Darrell Smith )

It has been a wild year. From planting challenges in the eastern Corn Belt, to hurricane-like weather in the heart of it, windstorms and challenges everywhere in between, it’s sure to be a year that puts even the best hybrids and varieties to the test.

While you’re in the heart of harvest, take notes on what you’re seeing. You should be able to use this information to prepare for what could be more challenging storage, reduced grain quality or to 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 all you can do is learn and set expectations.

“One of the biggest things we’re watching for is ear molds or fungi to develop,” says Jim McDermott, DeKalb technical agronomist. “And one of the biggest risks to grain quality and value is aflatoxin — more so in certain parts of the U.S.”

While you usually think about molds and disease in wet or humid conditions, dry conditions can be just as dangerous, if not more, when it comes to penalties at the elevator.

“Aflatoxin is a disease that shows up when we have drought conditions, and especially when we have nights above 70°F,” McDermott says. “We’ve had that in some areas and could continue with those conditions going forward — that increases aflatoxin risk tremendously.”

Insect Damage

They fly, crawl and bite, and with each attack your corn suffers. Not only does it reduce weight, that damage makes the plant more susceptible to disease and storage concerns.

“You want to be looking for any signs of insect damage on the ears,” says Phil Krieg, Syngenta field agronomist. “Ear worm or Japanese beetle damage, and sometimes we’ll see birds damage the husk a little bit when they are going after insects on the ear tip.

“Pay attention to any damage on ear tips because you’ll want to harvest and store that grain separately,” Krieg continues. “You want to dry it down to a lower moisture, like 14%, so molds and other issues don’t grow in the bin.”

Grain in bins will be more prone to gathering chaff, dust and trash from damaged kernels. You’ll want to keep a close eye on these bins for hot spots 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.