Evaluating Your Corn Crop From Ground Level

During early plant development, assessing crop health and prospects for achieving maximum yield potential begins with evaluating the root system. Being a diligent observer of your crop at the ground level and understanding what it is telling you are critical to understanding why a crop performs the way it does.

The root system in the early stages of corn growth is a key to producing maximum yields (Figure 1). A poor early root system can often lead to uneven growth of plants resulting in reduced yield potential. At about the time corn has four visible leaf collars, the nodal root system is becoming the major functioning root system of the corn plant. Rings of nodal roots should be visible at the crown of the plant at this time. Once the nodal root system develops, plants are essentially independent from the seminal root system (radical and lateral seminal roots which develop below the seed). 

HealthyRootSystem Figure 1. A healthy root system helps maximize yield potential.

Fields with uneven growth at this stage may have plants that are experiencing problems in establishing the nodal root system due to sidewall compaction, shallow planting, and dry or fluffy soils which all inhibit or delay nodal root establishment. Plants still depending on the seminal root system tend to be less vigorous and smaller in size. Most of these soil conditions were present or created at the time of planting, indicating potentially marginal to poor planting conditions, or improper planter settings. 

Ear initiation in the corn growing point is beginning to occur now as well. One of the first factors in setting the potential size of the ear is determining the number of kernel rows. Stress to the plant at this time due to a delayed or poorly developed nodal root system may limit the total kernel rows established on the ear. Delayed plant development may also lead to poor pollination and delayed ear development, potentially reducing grain yield and increasing harvest moisture.

A lot can happen to a corn crop during the season, which determines end of season yield potential, yet a great percentage of the yield potential is set at “ground level” early in the plant’s development. Look to what is happening below the soil surface to evaluate the current health and potential success of the crop.

Performance may vary, from location to location and from year to year, as local growing, soil and weather conditions may vary. Growers should evaluate data from multiple locations and years whenever possible and should consider the impacts of these conditions on the grower’s fields. ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW GRAIN MARKETING AND ALL OTHER STEWARDSHIP PRACTICES AND PESTICIDE LABEL DIRECTIONS. Channel® and the Arrow Design® and Seedsmanship At Work® are registered trademarks of Channel Bio, LLC. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. ©2020 Bayer Group. All rights reserved.

Todd Vagts

Agronomist

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