Fusarium Stalk Rot

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Symptoms of Fusarium Stalk Rot

Fusarium stalk rot
corn stalk rot infected with fusarium stalk rot
  • Rotting at roots, crown and lower internodes
  • Plants wilt, take on a grayish-green hue, and then turn tan
  • When split, inner stalk shows a light pink to tan discoloration, but no black specks (fungal fruiting bodies) in or on the stalk
  • Pith disintegrates, vascular bundles remain intact
  • Stalks feel spongy when squeezed and may be easily crushed or crimped at lower internodes
  • Plants may lodge when pushed sideways or impacted by wind

Fusarium vs. Gibberella

  • Fusarium may look similar to Gibberella stalk rot
  • Closely related fungi cause these diseases
  • Distinguish by inner stalk color
    • Fusarium - white/pink/salmon
    • Gibberella - red/pink
corn stalk infected with fusarium stalk rot
Corn stalk infected with gibberella stalk rot has an inner stalk color of white/pink/salmon.

Facts on Fusarium Stalk Rot

  • Caused by Fusarium verticilioides fungus (formerly called Fusarium moniliforme), found everywhere corn is grown
  • Also infects sorghum, sugarcane, wheat, cotton, banana, pineapple and tomato
  • Overwinters as mycelia in infected crop debris, spread by wind and rain splash
  • Can infect the plant directly through the roots, causing root and lower stalk rot
  • Can also infect at the nodes when dispersed to leaves and washed down into the sheath
  • Favored by warm, relatively dry weather; plant stress following pollination; and other diseases
  • Disease generally progresses during reproductive stages of corn development
  • Typically occurs in a complex with other root/stalk rots including Gibberella, Diplodia and anthracnose
  • European corn borer adults have been shown to vector the disease from plant to plant. Corn borer larvae create wounds that allow the fungus to enter the plant.

Disease Cycle

Fusarium Stalk Rot Disease Cycle

Impact on Crop

  • Interference with translocation of water and nutrients during grain fill
    • Affected plants have poorly filled kernels (low test weight), resulting in yield reduction
    • May lead to premature death in some cases, magnifying test weight and yield reductions
    • Broken and lodged stalks
  • Slows harvest
    • May result in ears not harvested
    • May reduce grain quality if ears contact ground
  • Fungus may also infect corn ears

Management of Fusarium Stalk Rot

  • Select hybrids with good stalk strength and resistance to leaf diseases
  • Rotate crops
  • Use a tillage system that chops and incorporates residue to break it down
  • Do not use plant populations higher than recommended for the hybrid
  • Soil test and follow fertilizer recommendations; maintain proper nitrogen to potassium balance
  • Reduce stresses when possible - stalk rots are favored by plant stress following pollination
  • Control leaf diseases with fungicides if necessary
  • Control corn rootworm and corn borer.
  • Scout preharvest to determine stalk condition. Schedule harvest based on stalk quality as well as grain moisture