Corn root lodging is a term we’ve used a few times – I talked about it in the last video update, and I mentioned it last year when I talked about the importance of strong roots. The term refers to what happens to corn plants when a number of other factors are at play: weather, soil conditions, pest pressure, and more. It’s sort of like ‘fouls’ in football; there are many ways to get called – from false starts to roughing the kicker – but in the end, a foul on your team sets you back a bit.
Corn root lodging often happens during the middle to end of the vegetative stage, and the plants are most vulnerable to lodging when the plant is going through its major growth spurt just before tasseling. This is because there is a lot of plant above the ground – the stalk can range between 1′-4′ or taller – and the roots are still developing to adequately sustain the weight and pressure of the growing plant.
You can identify corn root lodging by an exaggerated bend in the corn stalks. Called goose-necking, it looks as if the corn wanted to lie down and changed its mind halfway to the ground.
Causes of Corn Root Lodging
Weather events (like a storm) and weather conditions (like drought) are high on the list of causes of corn root lodging. The lodging we saw on the Monmouth farm this growing season was the result of the corn plants sustaining high winds during the June 22 storm. Overly wet weather conditions, especially during the beginning of the growing season, can result in shallow root development and means that there’s not much support below ground to keep the plants upright during a big wind storm. Drought conditions make it very difficult for brace roots – the roots that you see at the base of the stalk, just above the soil – to develop. Without good brace roots, corn is particularly vulnerable to lodging during a bad storm.
Other variables that contribute to corn root lodging include soil compaction and poor seed placement. Compacted soil makes root growth very difficult, especially during early stages, because it’s very nearly impossible for the delicate root shoots to make their way through hard soil. Seeds that aren’t placed correctly in furrow (the seed hole) can also curb good root growth – the roots have to re-route their growth pattern to properly do their job.
Additionally, pests, such as corn rootworm, can seriously weaken corn plant root systems and put the plant at risk for lodging during a weather event. I posted the below photo before in the CRW post, but you can see how much damage the rootworms did to the roots on the right.
Effects on the Plants
The effect corn root lodging has on the growing corn varies. If the corn root lodging occurs before pollination, which is what happened this year on the Fantasy Farming Challenge plots, then there is usually enough time for the plants to recover. Part of their recovery for the plants means they “bend” back up toward the sun. Yield might not be affected much, unless there are other factors contributing to their weak roots (such as drought). Disease pressure does increase during the time that the stalks are laying on top of each other, but fungicides may help protect the plants from further damage from diseases.
If lodging occurs during pollination or during pollen shed, yield may be negatively impacted because the process(es) might not be entirely successful – the touchdown pass was intercepted. You might see some missing kernels on various parts of the ear, or the tip of the ear might be devoid of kernels.
A big concern is dealing with goose-necked stalks at harvest. Combine heads are designed for upright corn plants, so farmers can experience a loss in yield due to mechanical issues; it’s possible that the farmer must buy or rent special equipment to attach to the combine to help direct the stalks into the header. Even without special equipment, harvesting often takes more time to accomplish because the farmer has to drive the combine through the field more slowly to ensure they can catch as many of the stalks in their header as possible.
I don’t think we’ll be dealing with any of these major issues on the Fantasy Farming Challenge plots, but I’m interested in seeing what the ears look like from plot to plot.
I hope you all are enjoying the start of a new school year!
Troy is formerly a high school Agriculture teacher and FFA advisor who is passionate about teaching Agronomics, Ag Science, and Plant Biology. Now the manager of the Monmouth Learning Center, Troy has led the Fantasy Farming Challenge since 2013, helping hundreds of high school students to understand the choices farmers make against the challenges of weather, disease, weed management, and insect pressure.