Fusarium Ear Rot

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Fusarium Ear Rot
  • Scattered or groups of kernels are typically affected
  • Mold may be white, pink or salmon-colored
  • Infected kernels may turn tan or brown
  • "Starburst" pattern often associated with the disease (light-colored streaks radiating from top of kernels where silks were attached)

Fusarium Ear Rot Facts

  • Most common fungal disease on corn ears
  • Caused by Fusarium verticillioides (previously known as Fusarium moniliforme) and several other Fusarium species
  • Fungi survive on residue of corn and other plants, especially grasses
  • Infection can occur under a wide range of environmental conditions. Disease is more severe when weather is warm and dry
  • Disease enters ear primarily through wounds from hail or insect feeding
    • Insects damage husks and kernels and may also vector Fusarium spores
    • Ear rot severity is usually related to severity of European corn borer, western bean cutworm or corn earworm feeding damage
  • Airborne spores can germinate and grow down the silk channel to infect kernels

Disease Cycle

Fusarium ear rot disease cycle


Impact on Crop

  • Yield and grain quality are reduced
  • In severe infections, ears may be completely consumed by the fungus, leaving lightweight husks cemented to the
    kernels by mycelia
  • Fusarium verticillioides and Fusarium proliferatium produce fumonisins, the most commonly occurring mycotoxins
    in the Corn Belt
  • Fumonisins can be fatal to horses and pigs
  • Fumonisins can damage organs in other mammals and are carcinogenic
 In severe fusarium ear rot infections, corn ears may be completely consumed by the fungus.


Management of Fusarium Ear Rot

  • Choose hybrids with resistance
  • Fusarium scores for Pioneer hybrids range from 3 to 7 (9=resistant), indicating important differences between hybrids
  • If Fusarium ear rot has caused significant damage in the past, growers should consider planting only hybrids with a Fusarium ear rot rating of 5 or higher
  • Rotating out of corn for a year is beneficial
  • Tillage to bury or breakdown crop residue is helpful
  • Hybrids genetically engineered to resist insects may have lower levels of fumonisins
  • Pioneer® brand hybrids with the Herculex® I Insect Protection trait help reduce ear feeding from:
    • Corn borer, western bean cutworm, fall armyworm, corn earworm
Fusarium Ear Rot Comparison
Left:  Bt ears — no insect feeding or disease symptoms
Right: Non-Bt ears — insect feeding allowed entry of Fusarium fungus
with resulting symptoms

Harvest and Storage

  • Clean bins before storage
  • Harvest at 25% moisture and dry to 15% moisture or lower if storing grain into the following summer
  • Cool infected grain below 50 F as quickly after harvest as possible and store at 30 F
  • Clean grain before storing to remove infected kernels, cobs and fines
  • Store infected grain separately, if possible, to avoid putting whole bin at risk

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