From the Field:

Corn and Hail Damage: Will My Corn Survive?

Photo from the U.S. Weather Service station in Dodge City. The faint areas of white behind the storm are where the largest and most accumulating hail fell during storms on May 14, 2018.

Severe thunderstorms and hail are nothing new to Kansas farmers, and during this time of year our threat level is RED. And after every storm the first question that may pop into your mind is, how will this affect my crops?

The first question you need to answer is how far along in development is your corn?

  • If it hasn’t emerged or is barely emerging then you’re golden. There wasn’t really enough of the plant above ground to sustain any damage.
  • If the corn has less than five leaves before the hail, then most likely the growing point was still below ground. This is good because young corn has a great capacity to recover from early-season hail damage. The growing point of a corn plant is the top of the stem which contains the actively dividing and elongating cells that will become the tassel. Even if the hail took the leaves off and pounded that little plant into the ground, the plant should grow out of it with few long-term problems.
  • If the growing point was out of the ground then there could be major damage. Wait a few days then go back out to look for these signs:
    • If after a few days the main stem starts to grow again and new leaves come out of the main stem then there is little damage.
    • However if you start to see tillers, you may be in trouble. Tillers on corn are vegetative or reproductive shoots that grow from the axillary buds on the lower stalk nodes of a corn plant. These tillers will start growing outward from the base of the damaged plant and even though they look okay now, at tasseling and ear forming time the plant will not be productive.  This plant should be not counted for stand count when you are evaluating whether to replant.

Corn plants damaged by hail such as this one could be at a greater threat for disease such as this one.

So let’s say you were hit by a hail storm last night, and you go out today to look at your crop. The best thing you can do is get back in the pick-up truck and drive away. Don’t make any decisions right away, time is your friend. Wait a few days and then come back to check the signs of growth. Even the little plants need a few days to grow so that you can get a stand count of the field.

An accurate estimate of plant survival should be done in the coming days to more precisely determine damaged plants that will survive vs. missing plants – causing stand reductions. Young corn has a great capacity to recover from early-season hail damage. Scout your fields and check for final number of plants and potential problems associated with these weather events such as lowered disease resistance.

Check out the blog post, All Hail Mother Nature, to see post-hail and pre-harvest photos from fields that were hit by a major hail storm in southwest Kansas during the 2017 growing season.

Information Sources:  Dale Fjell, Director of Research and Sustainability and Ignacio Ciampitti, Kansas state extension corn specialist