Dealing With Corn Ear Rot Infected Grain

Bob Mulrooney, Extension Plant Pathologist; bobmul@udel.edu

We continue to get samples of stalk rot, and now ear rots in field corn. More samples of Fusarium ear rot caused by Fusarium moniliforme also known as Fusarium verticillioides have been received in the diagnostic lab this week. Hybrids that have been holding their ears vertical and have poor ear cover can be more susceptible to ear rots that benefit from moisture trapped in the ears. Ears that have been damaged by insects, particularly corn earworm, can also have more ear rot fungal infections. Fusarium moniliforme can produce mycotoxins called fumonisins.(see below), but not all isolates of the fungus produce fumonisins. Infected grain should be dried to 15% or below to prevent mold growth in storage.

When evaluating an ear rot problem, remember that certain ear rots are a warning sign to suspect toxins, but ear rots do not always lead to toxin problems. When potentially toxigenic ear rots are noticed in the field, grain can be managed to minimize toxin development. If more than 10% of ears have a significant amount of mold (25% of the ear or more), these fields should be harvested and the corn dried as soon as possible. The combine will remove some of the moldiest kernels.

Fusarium ear rot caused by Fusarium moniliforme

The best option for moldy grain is to feed it or sell it instead of storing it. However, it should be tested for toxins before feeding. Testing for mycotoxins can be done before putting the grain in storage. The best sampling method is to take a composite sample of at least 10 pounds from a moving grain stream, or to take multiple probes in a grain cart or truck for a composite 10-pound sample. If toxins are present, it is possible that it can be fed to a less sensitive livestock species, such as beef cattle (depending on the specific toxin and its concentration). A veterinarian or extension specialist can help with these decisions. If the grain is sold, there may be a reduced price due to mold damage.

Cleaning the grain removes fine particles that are usually the moldiest and most susceptible to further mold development. Good storage conditions (proper temperature and moisture content, aeration, insect control, clean bins) and regular inspection are essential in preventing mold and toxin development in any stored corn. G. Munkvold (Iowa State Univ. Ext.)

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