Lodging in Corn

Originally written February 1, 2006 | Last updated September 6, 2018

As farmers start harvesting earlier planted corn fields (those typically planted in mid May or earlier), they often encountered stalk lodging especially in fields that received little or no rain. For a corn plant to remain healthy and free of stalk rot, the plant must produce enough carbohydrates by photosynthesis to keep root cells and pith cells in the stalk alive and enough to meet demands for grain fill.

When corn is subjected to stress during grainfill, photosynthetic activity is reduced. As a result, the carbohydrate levels available for the developing ear are insufficient. The corn plant responds to this situation by removing carbohydrates from the leaves, stalk, and roots to the developing ear. While this "cannibalization" process ensures a supply of carbohydrates for the developing ear, the removal of carbohydrates results in premature death of pith cells in the stalk and root tissues, which predisposes plants to root and stalk infection by fungi. As plants near maturity, this removal of nutrients from the stalk to the developing grain results in a rapid deterioration of the lower portion of corn plants in drought stressed fields with lower leaves appearing to be nitrogen stressed, brown, and/or dead.

Other plant stresses which increase the likelihood of stalk rot problems include: loss of leaf tissue due to foliar diseases (such as gray leaf spot or northern corn leaf blight), insects, or hail; injury to the root system by insects or chemicals; high levels of nitrogen in relation to potassium; compacted or saturated soils restricting root growth; and high plant populations.

Most hybrids do not begin to show stalk rot symptoms until shortly before physiological maturity. It is difficult to distinguish between stalk rots caused by different fungi because two or more fungi may be involved. Similarly, certain insects such as European corn borer often act in concert with fungal pathogens to cause stalk rot.

The presence of stalk rots in corn may not always result in stalk lodging, especially if the affected crop is harvest promptly. It's not uncommon to walk corn fields where nearly every plant is upright yet nearly every plant is also showing stalk rot symptoms. Many hybrids have excellent rind strength, which contributes to plant standability even when the internal plant tissue has rotted or started to rot. However, strong rinds will not prevent lodging if harvest is delayed and the crop is subjected to weathering, e.g. strong winds and heavy rains.

A symptom common to all stalk rots is the deterioration of the inner stalk tissues so that one or more of the inner nodes can easily be compressed when squeezing the stalk between thumb and finger. It is possible by using this squeeze test to assess potential lodging if harvesting is not done promptly. The push test is another way to predict lodging. Push the stalks at the ear level, 6-8" from the vertical. If the stalk breaks between the ear and the lowest node, stalk rot is usually present.

To minimize losses for stalk lodging rot damage, avoid harvest delays. Identify fields that are at greatest risk and harvest these fields first. Fields which experienced late season stress or extensive disease would be prime candidates for early harvest.

  1. Safety first
  2. Reduce ground speed. Slow down and adjust gathering chain and snapping roll speed to match combine speed
  3. Go against the grain. Combine corn the opposite direction from which it leans.
  4. Catch the corn. Adjust gathering chains and snapping plate as close as possible to the stalks.
  5. Reach down low. Run the head as close to the ground as possible. Be wary of rocks and uneven terrain.
  6. Be ready. Scout fields to anticipate harvest problems.

Specialized Equipment for Down Corn

Kelderman Corn Reel Role-a-Cone Reel Hawkins Corn Reel

Heritage Machine & Welding
1001 W. Locust
Bloomington, IL 61701
(800) 274-0440
Corn Reel by Minden Machine Shop Inc.
1302 K Road
Minden, NE 68959
(800) 264-6587
The Meteer Corn Reel
Meteer Manufacturing
RR1 Box 221
Athens, IL 62613
(217) 636-8109
The Roll-A-Cone
Roll-A-Cone Manufacturing
7655 Roll-A-Cone Road
Tulia, TX 79088
(806) 668-4722
Hawkins Corn Reel
Hawkins Manufacturing, Inc.
2120 4th Ave
Holdrege, NE 68949

Marion Calmer's Recommendations for Harvesting Down Corn

  1. Install auto header height on your corn head.
  2. Flatten the corn head angle.
  3. If the corn is lodged "with the row" steepen the corn head angle.
  4. Synchronize gathering chain speed to ground speed.
  5. Set the clearance between the tray and cross auger flighting at two inches for down corn.
  6. Open stripper plates.
  7. Use more taper from bottom to top on stripper plates.
  8. Center the stripping tunnel above the stalk roll tunnel.
  9. Synchronize gathering chain lugs to be opposed from one another.
  10. Attach metal paddles onto every other gathering chain lug to increase the conveying capacity of chain.
  11. Install a corn reel.
  12. Take off any end risers or tall corn extensions.
  13. Remove rubber ear savers.
  14. Add weight to poly divider snouts to help them stay under the canopy.
  15. Grind the wear shoe tips of the dividers or shim to give more pitch to help them stay under the canopy.
  16. Use stalk rolls with revolving windows.
  17. Start harvesting on the downwind side of the field.
  18. Turn gathering chains around to increase aggressiveness.

Further Reading

Carter, P.R. 2015. Wind Lodging Effects on Corn Growth and Grain Yield. Pioneer Insights, see https://www.pioneer.com/home/site/us/agronomy/library/wind-lodging-effects/.

Carter, P.R., and K.D. Hudelson. 1988. Influence of simulated wind lodging on corn growth and grain yield. J. Prod. Agric. 1:295-299.

Nielsen, B., and D. Colville. 1988. Stalk Lodging in Corn: Guidelines for Preventive Management. Agronomy Guide, AY-262 Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

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