Corn Early Season Drought Stress

By Ty Bodeis  |  July 5, 2022

How Will The Recent Dry Conditions Affect Your Corn Crop?

That is a question I’ve been getting lately as rains have been few and far apart. Some fields of corn are beginning to roll up in response to the heat and dry conditions. With most corn in the state being in early vegetative growth stages the crop is not in large demand for water currently, somewhere between .1 and .2 inches a day. This is compared to later season demands, especially around tasseling and pollination, of up to .35 inches per day. That is not to say that corn doesn’t need the water right now, because stress at any time of the growing season matters with corn.
Corn during a drought
Currently corn is deciding how tall it is going to be, as well as its kernel rows and length. It takes several days of corn experiencing drought symptoms, namely leaf rolling, before yield is affected. After around 4 days of visual symptoms, yield losses will begin to occur through losing potential number of kernel rows, ear girth, and overall height of the plants. These yield losses at our current growth stages will be minimalized at around 1-3% per day after that forth day of stress. That is compared to similar stress during pollination of 3-9% yield loss per day. This is good because hopefully we will soon get some rains that will alleviate the stress before pollination begins when we can see those larger yield reductions.

Other issues you may experience because of the dry weather, is poor brace and nodal root development. Brace and nodal roots are important for securing the corn plants to prevent lodging later in the season. In hot and dry conditions, the roots have the potential to dry out and die before they can get to the soil surface or they may not be able to penetrate the soil surface because it is too hard. Either of these situations can lead to lodging conditions in the fall. Fields should be monitored in late summer to know if they will need to be harvested early or not because of poor brace root development.
Corn during a drought 2
Lastly, you may also see corn start to show potassium deficiency symptoms. Potassium deficiency begin at the leaf tip and progress down the margin toward the leaf base. You will see yellowing of the outer leaf margins on the lower leaves first. The field may not be potassium deficient, but potassium is accessed by the roots through water. If there is not enough water in the soil, the potassium will bind to the soil particles and not be accessible to the corn plants. Potassium deficiency in corn plants during a drought is particularly problematic because potassium helps to regulate plant functions that help it stave off drought stress, so being deficient can exacerbate the drought stress on a corn crop.

If you have any questions or concerns about your corn crop, be sure to contact me at ty@dfseeds.com or your local DF representative. We would be happy to come out and walk your corn with you.

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