Arrested Ear Development in Corn – How to avoid them?

The crop season in Ohio is rapidly gaining progress. Depending on planting dates and hybrid relative maturities corn crop can be anywhere between early vegetative and up to tasseling. However, a vast majority of the crop is expected to be around the mid-to-late vegetative stages (Figure 1).

At this point, field issues can happen and be seen later in the season. If you are familiar with ‘abnormal ears’, many ear symptoms can fall into that, but this is the time when at least one of them can be mitigated: arrested ears (Figure 2). The term ‘arrested’ is used because the development of these ears is interrupted or stopped prematurely due to external factors.

Symptom: arrested ears (ear development arrested or stopped prematurely).

Causal factor: applications of nonionic surfactant (NIS) formulations.

Development timing: during the ear size determination period, from V6–V12; and up to V16.

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Figure 2. Arrested ear development likely caused by nonionic surfactant (NIS) applied during mid-to-late vegetative stages (V6 to V16, 6 to 16 collared leaves). Pictures: (a) Osler Ortez, (b) Robert Nielsen, and (c) Peter Thomison.

From field observations, the timing of the causal factor for arrested ears coincided with the timing of pesticide spray applications (e.g., post-emergence herbicide; and pre-tassel fungicide and insecticide applications), which often include nonionic surfactants (NIS) in the tank-mix (note: NIS may be already included in some pesticide products). Researchers started to look closely at nonionic surfactants as the potential cause. Years later, results confirmed nonionic surfactants (not the pesticide!) as the cause when applied anywhere between V6 and up to V16 stage in corn. The percentage of plants affected depended on hybrid, the plant stage when applications were made (e.g., applications at V15 resulting in more arrested ears than V11 applications), and management conditions that promoted faster plant growth (e.g., water and nutrient availability).

The partial solution to this phenomenon is to avoid applications of nonionic surfactants (NIS) during sensitive development stages in corn: V6 to V18 (6 to 18 collared leaves). For this and other reasons, understanding and keeping track of crop growth and development through the season is critical, especially when considering field applications. Development staging misunderstandings and applications at the wrong time can be conducive to these and many other issues. When staging, it is recommended to use the leaf collar method. At later vegetative stages, younger leaves have often senesced, staging using the split-stalk technique will help.

Regarding abnormal ears in general, several complexities and questions still need answers but with the knowledge available, abnormal ears can be seen as result of an “expression triangle” where susceptible hybrids, conducive environmental conditions, and unfavorable management practices can conduct to abnormal ears. A classic example of this expression triangle is arrested ears. To learn more about this and other issues related to abnormal ears, a review of the literature is summarized here: https://doi.org/10.1002/agj2.20986.

During the growing season, the crop’s exposure to unfavorable conditions can negatively affect ear formation and produce abnormal ears. Abnormal ears decrease yield and can reduce grain quality.

References

Schmitz, G.L., Fassler, N.T., Fellows, G.M., Shirley, A.M., Chamblee, R. W., Finch, C. W., Storr, M. A., Vassalotti, P. M., Klingaman, T. D.,Thomas, W. E., & Rathmann, D. P. 2011. Arrested ear development in corn caused by a component of certain surfactants.Agronomy Jour-nal,103(6), 1697–1703. https://doi.org/10.2134/agronj2011.0048

Ortez, O. A., McMechan, A. J., Hoegemeyer, T., Ciampitti, I. A., Nielsen, R., Thomison, P. R., & Elmore, R. W. 2022. Abnormal ear development in corn: A review. Agronomy Journal, 114, 1168– 1183. https://doi.org/10.1002/agj2.20986

Ortez, O. A., McMechan, A. J., Hoegemeyer, T., Ciampitti, I. A., Nielsen, R. L., Thomison, P., Abendroth, L. J., & Elmore, R. W. 2022. Conditions potentially affecting corn ear formation, yield, and abnormal ears: A review. Crop, Forage & Turfgrass Management, 8, e20173. https://doi.org/10.1002/cft2.20173

Ortez, O. A., McMechan, A. J., Hoegemeyer, T., Rees, J., Jackson-Ziems, T., & Elmore, R. W. 2022. Abnormal ear development in corn: A field survey. Agrosystems, Geosciences & Environment, 5:e20242. https://doi.org/10.1002/agg2.20242

Rees, J., Elmore, R., Jhala, A., Jackson-Ziems, T., & Sivits, S. 2020. Corn Ear Development Impacts from Post-emergence Pesticide Applications. The University of Nebraska Extension, CropWatch. https://cropwatch.unl.edu/2020/corn-ear-development-impacts-post-emergence-pesticide-applications  

Crop Observation and Recommendation Network

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.

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