Corn ear, kernel formation affected by weather


This is the last week that we will have Farm Science Review tickets for sale at a discount price so remember to stop by and pick some up.

Cost is $7 each at our office and $10 at the gate.

Every year there is always so much to see at the review, which runs Sept. 22-24 this year. For instance — the latest in agricultural equipment and farming methods will be showcased during a plot combine and plot planter field demonstration on Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 1 p.m.

Be sure to come out and support our 4-H kids who will be showing and selling at this year’s Delaware County Fair, which starts on Sept. 19. The kids have worked hard on their projects and the fair is their time to showcase all their effort over the past few months. It is always a great time to see many in the community and I look forward to it every year.

Excessive rainfall, which contributed to nitrogen loss and poor root development, followed by reduced rainfall in August, had a major impact on ear and kernel formation in many of our corn fields this year.

Poor ear and kernel development is associated with variability in plant growth within fields that is related to differences in the timing and duration of soil saturation. According to Peter Thomison, OSU Extension state specialist, in some areas within fields subject to protracted saturated soil conditions, ears are absent or severely reduced in size with a few nubbin ears. Affected plants often appear stunted and yellow due to nitrogen loss and restricted shallow root systems.

Where the impact of excessive moisture was less pronounced and plant height and color look normal or near normal, ear cob size may be normal but kernel number is markedly reduced. No kernels may be evident on the last two or more inches of the ear tip.

Several factors may cause this problem. Thomison says that the ovules at the tip of the ear are the last to be pollinated, and under the stress conditions only a limited amount of pollen was available to germinate late emerging silks. Pollen shed was complete or nearly complete before the silks associated with the tip ovules emerge. As a result, no kernels formed at the ear tip. Uneven soil conditions and plant development within fields may have magnified this problem. Pollen feeding and silk clipping by corn rootworm beetles and Japanese beetles can also contribute to pollination problems, resulting in poorly filled tips and ears.

Incomplete ear fill may also be related to kernel abortion. If plant sugars and proteins are limited during the early stages of kernel development, then kernels at the tip of the ear may abort. Kernels at the tip of the ear are the last to be pollinated and cannot compete as effectively for nutrients as kernels formed earlier.

Although we usually associate this problem with drought conditions, the stress conditions that occurred this year, such as nitrogen deficiency, excessive soil moisture and foliar disease damage, may cause a shortage of nutrients that lead to kernel abortion. Periods of cloudy weather following pollination, or the mutual shading from very high plant populations, can also contribute to kernel abortion.

Some agronomists and farmers characterize the kernel abortion that occurs at the end of the ear as “tip dieback,” “tip-back” or “nosing back,” although poor pollination is also usually a factor affecting poor kernel set at the tip. Kernel abortion may be distinguished from poor pollination of tip kernels by color. Aborted kernels and ovules not fertilized will both appear dried up and shrunken; however, aborted kernels often have a slight yellowish color.

Zipper ears are another ear development problem evident in some fields. Zipper ears exhibit missing kernel rows. This often occurs on the side of the cob away from the stalk and gives sort of a zippering look on the ears. The zippering is due to kernels that are poorly developed and/or ovules that have aborted and/or not pollinated. Zippering often extends most of the cob’s length and is often associated with a curvature of the cob, to such an extent that zipper ears are also referred to as “banana ears.”

For more on these ear development problems and others ear abnormalities, check the following: “Troubleshooting Abnormal Corn Ears” available online at

Rob Leeds

OSU Extension

Rob Leeds is the Ohio State University Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Delaware County.

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