The husks were falling away and the top third of what would be a nubbin in any other years was exposed. It was easy to see that it was under attack from a variety of enemies. Moisture had resulted in sprouting kernels. There were at least two kinds of mold on the ear. One of them had the appearance of Aspergillus, which produces aflatoxin, although it takes one test to confirm the mold, and another to confirm if aflatoxin is present or not.
Adding insult to injury, the tip of the ear where kernels had aborted was black. And adding insult to injury, some sort of insect was crawling across the base of the kernels. It was obvious that this plant and this ear had lost the fight.
"It's really not that hard to explain," says Dave Nanda, crops consultant and director of genetics and technology for Seed Consultants, Inc. "There are enemies in nature of anything that is weak. These plants and their ears where there was extreme stress during the growing season are weak. They are under attack from every organism and every insect that is looking for a weak link to gain a foothold."
It's all part of the natural cycle, Nanda says. While the plant did what it could to produce as many viable kernels as possible, in the process it used up and cannibalized sugars from the stalk, making for weak stalks. Husks are loosening up on several hybrids in stressed areas of the state. The net result is that corn that still stands in the field in these areas is vulnerable to a variety of pests that can cause potential damage to the grain.
Many farmers have started running earlier and at higher moisture levels than they might otherwise. Most experts believe that the priority should be to get corn out of the field, especially if it was stressed, before conditions worsen.