Impact of recent heavy rains on corn - ponding and flooding

Heavy rains over the weekend resulted in saturated soil conditions across much of the state. Excessive rainfall in some areas resulted in localized ponding and flooding of corn. According to the USDA/NASS  (https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Ohio/Publications/Crop_Progress_&_Condition/2017/cw1817oh.pdf) “locally heavy amounts fell in Southwest Ohio, drowning out some recently planted fields.” If the ponding and flooding was of a limited duration, i.e. the water drained off quickly within a few hours, the injury resulting from the saturated soil conditions should be minimal.

The extent to which ponding injures corn is determined by several factors including: (1) plant stage of development when ponding occurs, (2) duration of ponding and (3) air/soil temperatures. Prior to the 6-leaf collar stage (as measured by visible leaf collars) or when the growing point is at or below the soil surface, corn can usually survive only 2 to 4 days of flooded conditions. Since most of the corn that’s been planted so far is not beyond the VE stage, it’s especially vulnerable to damage from ponding and saturated soil conditions. The oxygen supply in the soil is depleted after about 48 hours in a flooded soil. Without oxygen, the plant cannot perform critical life sustaining functions; e.g. nutrient and water uptake is impaired, root growth is inhibited, etc. If temperatures are warm during ponding (greater than 77 degrees F) plants may not survive 24-hours. Cooler temperatures prolong survival so the cooler than normal forecast this week may limit injury resulting from saturated soil conditions. Once the growing point is above the water level the likelihood for survival improves greatly.

Even if ponding doesn't kill plants outright, it may have a long term negative impact on crop performance. Excess moisture during the early vegetative stages retards corn root development. As a result, plants may be subject to greater injury during a dry summer because root systems are not sufficiently developed to access available subsoil water. Ponding can also result in losses of nitrogen through denitrification and leaching. Even if water drains quickly, there is the possibility of surface crusts forming as the soil dries that can impact the emergence of recently planted crops. Growers should be prepared to rotary hoe to break up the crust to promote emergence.

For corn that’s emerged check the color of the growing point to assess plant survival after ponding. It should be white to cream colored, while a darkening and/or softening usually precedes plant death. For corn not yet emerged, evaluate the appearance and integrity of seeds or seedlings that have yet to emerge (likely rotting if discolored and softening). Look for new leaf growth 3 to 5 days after water drains from the field.

Disease problems that become greater risks due to ponding and cool temperatures include pythium, corn smut, and crazy top. Fungicide seed treatments will help reduce stand loss, but the duration of protection is limited to about 10-14 days. The fungus that causes crazy top depends on saturated soil conditions to infect corn seedlings. There is limited hybrid resistance to these diseases and predicting damage from corn smut and crazy top is difficult until later in the growing season. However, the economic impact of these latter two diseases is usually negligible.

For more information on the impact of saturated soil conditions on corn, check out the following article written by Dr. Joe Lauer at the University of Wisconsin - Lauer, R.L. 2017. Flooding effects on corn. Univ. of Wisconsin [On-Line]. Available at: http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/Management/L038.aspx [verified 5/1/2017].

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About the C.O.R.N. Newsletter

C.O.R.N. Newsletter is a summary of crop observations, related information, and appropriate recommendations for Ohio crop producers and industry. C.O.R.N. Newsletter is produced by the Ohio State University Extension Agronomy Team, state specialists at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). C.O.R.N. Newsletter questions are directed to Extension and OARDC state specialists and associates at Ohio State.