Charcoal rot is among the corn diseases to watch out for in 2013 if heat and drought conditions continue.
Tamara Jackson-Ziems, UNL plant pathologist, says stalks weakened by stalk rot were evident in some corn in central and western Nebraska waiting to be harvested late last fall. High winds in October caused lodging of those weakened stalks.
Affected plants often have stalks that are hollow and easily crushed by hand or bent using either the "push or pinch" test. Stalk rot can occur at any point of the stalk, from the crown at or below the soil line all the way to the tassel. It's the stalk rot below the ear that causes lodging and losses during harvest.
Besides corn, charcoal rot can also affect other crops including sorghum and soybeans.
In corn, it's mostly likely to occur in dryland fields, including center pivot corners. "It thrives in hot and dry environments," she says.
Symptoms include numerous tiny black round structures inside the stalk, a condition that give the stalk a gray to black appearance. That's where the charcoal rot gets its name.
Jackson-Ziems recommends to walk through cornfields later in the season and randomly pick 100 plants, then push the tops to about a 30-degree angle. In this so-called push test, if the plant snaps back, it's okay, she says. "If the plants fail to snap back to vertical, then the stalk has been compromised by stalk rot."
The pinch test works, too. "Pinch or squeeze the plants at one of the lowest internodes above the brace roots. If the stalks crush easily by hand, then their integrity is reduced by stalk rot and they are prone to lodging," she says. "If more than 10% of the plants exhibit stalk rot symptoms, then harvesting that field should be a priority over other fields that are at less risk.