Ask an Agronomist
What Causes No-Ear Corn?
Nov 12, 2012
Question: This year we had spots in the (corn) field that were black and dead early with no ears on them. What would have caused these?
Answer: There could have been multiple issues. One that we would look at is corn nematodes. They could have put enough stress on the plants, along with the drought, that the plants died early. You can verify this with a soil sample, and evaluate corn nematodes in particular if you’re in a corn-on-corn area. Some of the problem could be soil-type related. What is your ground’s water-holding capacity level? Some soils are able to hold more water than others. Did you notice whether you had any pockets of ground (size-wise, approximately the size of a pickup to a house) that had barren stalks? We saw this problem, and we excavated three different pockets of ground like this. There was a noticeable difference in the soil moisture at approximately 18" to 20" deep in those pockets. When we got to a depth of 4 to 5 feet under the dead areas we were finding a band of sand or gravel in the soil. Those bands of sand and gravel restrict water from moving up to where corn roots could access it causing a perched water table. Under normal rainfall years the normal water table is high enough, but when it’s pulled below a certain level, like this year, the corn burns up. That is our preliminary finding this year. Here are some additional resources for your consideration.
Nematologists are seeing higher rates of nematode pressure in corn in recent years.
Knowing your soil’s water-holding capacity is essential to setting realistic yield goals.