Weird Ears?

When scouting fields at this time of year, it is not uncommon to come across corn ears that look different. Depending on your familiarity with ear abnormalities, seeing them in your fields may cause alarm or confusion. Each growing season has its own challenges and set backs which can lead to deformities such as zipper ears, exposed ears, banana ears, and tip dieback. 

Zipper Ears

Zipper ears are ears with missing kernel rows. This is because kernels were not able to develop normally, were slow, or were aborted after pollination.


Exposed Ears

Exposed ears occur when the ear grows beyond the husk, causing it to stick out and be exposed. Exposure makes the ear more likely to be affected by stresses like weather and pests.

Banana Shaped Ears

Named for the fruit-like shape, banana ears occur when an entire row or partial row is aborted. This causes the ear to bend, creating the unique shape due to uneven kernel numbers on different sides of the ear.

Tip Die Back

Tip back occurs when kernels arrest or do not form at the tip of the ear. Stresses like dry conditions or insects can prevent the silks from being pollinated and most often it is the kernels at the tip of the ear that are most affected, since they are the most sensitive.

So, what do you do about these abnormalities?  Once your ears are showing these abnormalities, there is little that can be done reactively. However, there are a few proactive measures that can be taken earlier in the season and should be kept in mind as we look towards next season.

1: Understand the Causes of Ear Abnormalities
Since heat and drought are just a few of the many causes of ear abnormalities, it is important to get a grasp on everything that can have a negative impact on your corn ears.
  • Late pollination of silks
  • Heavy silk feeding or clipping by insects such as Japanese beetles or corn rootworm
  • Heat and drought stress causes silk emergence to be slower than pollen shed
  • Hail Damage at late silk and early blister stage.
  • Nutrient deficiencies (often caused by dry conditions) 
While there are many causes of silk clipping, insects are really the only cause that can be controlled. 

2: Take Action Earlier in the Season
While we can’t predict the weather, staying on top of management practices like insect control can reap additional benefits later in the season. Be on the lookout for Japanese beetles and corn rootworm and control them as early as possible to lessen their impact.

3: Hybrid Selection
If ear abnormalities have become commonplace on your farm, or if you just want to be extra proactive, plant varieties that have demonstrated a greater degree of drought tolerance. If drought isn’t your problem, but insects such as corn rootworm are—plant a corn hybrid with the BT trait.

Notice any weird ears while scouting your fields? Want to protect your 2018 corn crop? Talk with your Centra Sota agronomist about what reactive and proactive measures that can be taken.