High winds and heavy rains in some parts of Ohio from the remnants of superstorm Sandy could cause stalk lodging and ear drop, reducing corn yields and making a bad year even worse in the wake of record-setting drought, an Ohio State University Extension agronomist says.

Wet soils are slowing harvest in the parts of the state that got heavy rains, particularly in areas where as much as 70 percent of the corn hasn’t yet been harvested. Strong winds may have caused stalk lodging, or a breaking of corn plants below the ears.

“With this drought-stressed corn, the high winds could have a larger effect to result in more corn lodging,” said Peter Thomison. “The rains were a big deal in many parts of the state, which is slowing harvest because combines can’t get into the fields.

“The more time you wait to harvest, the more dropped ears and natural lodging occur. In stress years like this, we can still see good yields, but often we see more stalk lodging and ears on the ground.”

The loss of one "normal-sized” ear per 100 feet of row translates into a loss of more than one bushel per acre. An average harvest loss of two kernels per square foot also is about one bushel per acre, Thomison said.

Drought stress exaggerated ear drop problems because it caused premature deterioration of the ear shank - a part of the corn plant where the ear attaches to the stalk.

A study of three hybrids conducted in 10 Ohio locations in 2011 and 2012 found no ear drop in 2011 - a year in which Ohio experienced some drought but not as severe or long-term as in 2012. This year, the study found ear drop in one of the three hybrids at each testing location.

“To minimize the potential for ear drop losses, some seed companies are recommending farmers run their corn heads as high as possible while adjusting ground and header speed for maximum ear retention,” Thomison said. “Operating the corn header higher than normal may reduce the loss of ears flying out the header during harvest.”

In addition to combine adjustments, Thomison said growers should prioritize harvest based on field conditions.

“Fields exhibiting ear drop and stalk lodging should be harvested promptly,” he said.