Hail Damage in Corn May 11, 2016
According to the May 8 USDA crop progress report, approximately 53% of corn acres have been planted and 15% of the crop has emerged. Violent storms with heavy winds and hail swept through central and eastern Nebraska this week, providing a reminder of the potential losses that can occur from early-season hail damage to corn.
Yield losses from hail storms will depend on the timing and severity of the hail and subsequent environmental conditions. Regardless of the level of damage, farmers should be patient when evaluating early-season hail damage in corn and wait 7–10 days after a hail event to allow for crop regrowth. We recently developed a five-day time-lapse video of corn response to hail damage to document the recovery process.
Replant decisions in corn require an estimate of the existing yield potential of the crop. This estimate is primarily based on the remaining live plant stand across an area. One method for developing an estimate would be to sample multiple areas within a field with each area equivalent to 1/1000th of an acre. Plants with abnormal growth (Figure 1) are considered as “non-living” during this evaluation because their ability to recover is uncertain. (Note: Under certain situations, a crop adjustor may delay early-season hail evaluations when a high percentage of plants exhibit abnormal growth from hail damage.)
Percent yield loss of hail-damaged corn fields is estimated, based on original and remaining plant stand data using USDA Federal Crop Insurance Corporation tables. When replanting corn, growers must also consider calendar date, weed situation, seed availability, hybrid maturity group, crop value, and the cost of equipment and fuel. For more information on replanting, see the May 22, 2015 CropWatch.
Yield Potential of Surviving Plants
Several questions have arisen about the yield potential of surviving corn plants following an early-season hail event. Previous studies have attempted to estimate this yield potential through artificial defoliation with highly variable results. Complete defoliation of V2 to V5 corn resulted in yield losses from 8.7% to 23%, respectively (Eldredge 1935). In contrast, shredding or removing up to two-thirds of corn leaves from V2 to V5 plants resulted in less than 4% yield loss (Eldredge 1935). Complete defoliation of V4 corn caused yield loss of 1.1% to 25.9% and were primary attributed to reduced ear size as a result of reduce leaf area and, to a lesser extent, a small change in plant population (Johnson 1978). Vasilas et al. (1991) evaluated the potential yield impact of uneven damage between plants in the same row by comparing plots with defoliation of every other corn plant to those with all plants defoliated during the early stages of plant development (~V4). Average grain yield was reduced by 12.3% when all plants were defoliated and by 8.3% when only half of the plants in the plot were defoliated (Vasilas et al. 1991).
Studies have also compared responses among corn hybrids. Johnson (1978) cut two early-, mid-, and late-season hybrids at the first leaf collar during V2 and found no consistent relationship between hybrid maturity and yield loss; losses ranged from 5.1% to 15.8%. Corn plants cut at the first collar during V4 showed yield responses ranging from an increase of 3.1% to losses of 24.4% (Johnson 1978). Nevertheless, actual yield increases are unlikely in hailed fields and when they have occurred are typically associated with drought conditions. Researchers hypothesize that early-season hail damage may reduce water uptake, leaving more water available during the latter half of the growing season when water demand is high. Such situations are highly unpredictable and not recommended as a means of managing water use.
Hail and Bacterial Plant Pathogens
Variations in yield potential of a hail-damaged field may be due to presence of other yield-limiting factors. Plant damage incurred during hailstorms can allow bacterial pathogens to enter the plant. Goss’s wilt (Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. nebraskensis (Vidaver and Mandel)) is a bacterial plant pathogen that is most common and severe following hailstorms (Jackson et al. 2007). Inoculum of Goss’s wilt can remain viable on corn residue for up to 10 months (Schuster 1975). Infection occurs as a result of rain splash from crop-infected residue onto open plant wounds during a hailstorm (Claflin 1999). Rapid disease development occurs in a warm moist environment (Martin et al. 1975). The optimal growth for Goss’s wilt is between 75°F and 82°F, with arrested pathogen development and death occurring by 100°F (Vidaver and Mandel 1974, Smidt and Vidaver 1986). Fortunately, temperatures in that range are rare in Nebraska during spring.
Goss’s wilt symptoms first appear as water-soaked lesions parallel to leaf veins with bacterial exudates that appear shiny (Schuster 1975). Yield losses of susceptible hybrids typically range from 44% to 63% when comparing resistant and susceptible hybrids (Claflin 1999, Jackson et al. 2007). Preventative management strategies, such as crop rotation and resistant hybrids, are the most effective means of reducing the impact from this pathogen. Other pathogens such as bacterial stalk rots have the potential to cause additional yield losses in corn fields.
We are currently conducting hail studies in corn to evaluate the potential for increased losses in the presence of bacterial pathogens through artificial hail application and through the evaluation of natural hail events. Bacterial plant pathogens can be difficult to detect and evaluate within seven days of a hail event. Farmers should consider cropping history and environmental conditions when considering additional risk or yield loss from these pathogens in hailed fields.
For more information on assessing hail damage on corn, see Nebraska Extension Circular 126, Evaluating Hail Damage to Corn.
Patience is the best advice following a hail storm. Emotions run high when hail decimates fields! Wait 7-10 days following the storm to assess damage and allow for plant recovery. The risk of additional yield losses from bacterial plant pathogens increases under continuous corn. Rotate with other crops when possible to reduce the potential for additional losses.
Note: This article is adapted from a portion of “A Vision for Extension: Case Studies on Managing Extreme Weather Challenges in Corn” by Anthony Justin McMechan. 2016. Doctor of Plant Health. University of Nebraska.
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Eldredge, J. C. 1935. Effect of injury in imitation of hail damage on the development of the corn plant. Agric. Exp. Stn. Iowa State Coll. Agric. Mech. Arts. 185: 61 pp.
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USDA-FCIC, (United States Department of Agriculture - Federal Crop Insurance Corporation). 2014. Corn Loss Adjustment Standards Handbook. Risk Management Agency. 25080: 1–104.Vasilas, B. L., J. J. Fuhrmann, and R. W. Taylor. 1991. Response of three corn hybrids to defoliation of neighboring plants. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 71: 311–315.
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