How to Manage Hail Damaged Corn

FBN Network

Jul 25, 2023

Hailstorms can wreak havoc on corn crops, causing damage at various growth stages and impacting yield potential. As a corn farmer, it's important to understand how hail affects your crop and what steps you can take to mitigate the damage. 

In this guide, we will explore: 

  • The effects of hail on corn across different growth stages

  • How to assess hail leaf damage and internal stalk bruising

  • Considerations for harvesting hail-damaged corn

Hail Damage Impacts at Different Growth Stages

Hail poses a major threat to corn crops, no matter what stage of growth they are in. Because hail affects corn in different ways at different growth stages, understanding the extent of the damage and potential for recovery can differ significantly depending on when the hail event takes place. 

Proactively prepare for potential hail damage and mitigate possible losses by familiarizing yourself with the different impacts outlined below: 

Early Vegetative Stage (V1-V6)

During the early vegetative stage of corn growth, which typically occurs between the V1 and V6 stages when the plant has around 6-7 leaves, hail can cause leaf shredding and decreased plant height. 

However, the damage inflicted during this stage is usually minimal; thanks to their ability to produce new stems and leaves, corn plants at this stage have a remarkable ability to recover quickly with minimal yield loss. This rapid recovery is facilitated by the plant's strong root system, which allows it to efficiently absorb nutrients and water from the soil. 

The early vegetative stage is a critical period for corn plants to establish a strong foundation for future growth and development. Monitor the plants closely during this stage and take appropriate measures to protect them from any potential hail damage.

Mid-Vegetative Stage (V7-V12)

During the mid-vegetative stage of corn development, which typically occurs between the V7 and V12 growth stages, hail can result in more severe damage compared to earlier stages. The force of the hailstones can shred the leaves of the corn plants, leaving them tattered and torn. This can hinder the plant's ability to photosynthesize and impede its overall development, resulting in stunted growth and reduced yield. 

However, if the growing point of the corn plant remains intact, there is still recovery potential. Assess the extent of the damage and monitor the growing point’s condition so you can make informed decisions about next steps to further facilitate recovery and mitigate potential yield losses.

Late Vegetative Stage (V13-VT)

During the late vegetative stage of corn growth, which occurs between the V13 and VT stages, you should be especially cautious about the potential impact of hail as storms during this critical period can cause significant damage to your crop. 

The force of hailstones can strip leaves off plants, leaving them vulnerable and exposed, and bruise stalks.

Because plants rapidly develop and crucially prepare for reproductive growth during the late vegetative stage, any damage suffered during this stage can have long-lasting consequences on the crop's ability to recover and achieve its full yield potential. It’s important to immediately assess any damage and mitigate losses at this stage as the corn’s ability to bounce back is severely limited at this time. 

Reproductive Stage (R1-R6)

During the reproductive stage of your crop, which spans from R1 to R6, hail can wreak havoc on your developing ears, resulting in reduced kernel set and ultimately leading to yield loss. Damage severity will depend on the stage of ear development at the time of the hail event. 

If hail strikes during the early reproductive stages, such as R1 or R2 when the ears are just beginning to form, the impact may be less severe as the crop has more time to recover. However, if hail occurs during the later reproductive stages, such as R5 or R6 when the ears are nearing maturity, the damage can be catastrophic. 

In these later stages, kernels are fully formed and any damage to the ears can significantly impact final yield. Closely monitor weather forecasts and take appropriate measures to protect your crop during the reproductive stage, such as implementing hail netting or seeking insurance coverage to mitigate potential losses caused by hail events.

Assess Stalk Bruising

When assessing the health of your corn crop after a storm, pay careful attention to internal stalk bruising. Take a few stalks and split them open to examine the internal tissue. Look for any signs of bruising, as these can have detrimental effects on the overall health and productivity of your plants. 

Bruised stalks are not only more prone to lodging, but they also become more susceptible to diseases that can further impact your yield potential. If you find that a significant portion of your stalks show signs of bruising — depending on the severity — consider replanting or harvesting the corn for silage. 

Make Timely Decisions Based on Weather Forecasts

Because additional hail events or adverse weather conditions can exacerbate the damage already inflicted on your corn crop, it’s important to closely monitor forecasts and make timely crop decisions based on the information available. By taking action sooner rather than later, you can minimize the potential for further losses and maximize your chances of salvaging a portion of your crop. 

Consider Harvest Timing and Alternative Harvest Options 

Late-season hail damage can be especially challenging. If you experience hail damage closer to harvest time, you can opt to harvest it wet and avoid further yield losses instead of waiting for the corn to dry down. Check with your local extension service or agronomist to determine the best course of action based on your specific circumstances. They can provide valuable insights and guidance tailored to your farm's unique conditions, ensuring you make an informed decision that maximizes your crop's potential.

If your crop has been severely damaged and seems unlikely to recover, you may want to consider harvesting it for silage. Silage can be a valuable feed source for your livestock, helping to ensure they have access to the necessary nutrients even in the face of crop failure and minimizing the economic losses typically associated with hail damage. 

Silage is created by chopping the entire corn plant, including the stalks, leaves and cobs, into small pieces and then packing it tightly into a silo or bunker. This process allows the plant material to ferment, preserving its nutritional value and making it easier for animals to digest. Silage can be stored for long periods of time, offering a reliable feed source throughout the year. 

Account for Existing Stress Factors

When deciding how to handle hail-damaged corn, it’s important to consider any existing stress factors that may also be affecting your crop. Pests, diseases, low fertility and root lodging can all exacerbate the effects of hail damage, leading to further reductions in yield potential. 

It is crucial to assess the overall health of your corn crop and consult with agricultural professionals who can provide expert advice on the most effective strategies to mitigate the damage and maximize your crop's potential. This may involve implementing targeted pest and disease control measures, adjusting nutrient management practices to address low fertility or implementing strategies to address root lodging. 

Proactively Prepare for Hail with Products from FBN®

Hailstorms can pose significant challenges for corn farmers. Understanding the effects of hail at different growth stages, knowing how to assess leaf damage and internal stalk bruising, and having a plan for harvest can help limit yield reductions. 

FBN Insurance offers custom crop-hail coverage to protect your operation against crop damages associated with hailstorms. Crop-hail policies are available in all 50 states and do not require farmers to insure their entire operation; you can select coverage on an acre-by-acre basis as needed. For more information on crop-hail protection from FBN, click here

FBN Direct® also offers a range of products to address potential diseases associated with hail damage. GCS Azoxyprop, which contains fungicides azoxystrobin and propiconazole, can help prevent and treat fungal infections. Azoxystrobin is a broad-spectrum fungicide that inhibits fungal respiration, preventing the growth and spread of fungal pathogens. Propiconazole is a systemic fungicide absorbed by the plant and translocated throughout its tissues to kill fungal pathogens. 

Another helpful product to use in addressing hail damaged corn is Nourish Vitals™, a biostimulant designed to give crops an end- of- season nutrient bump. A premium foliar nutrition product, Nourish Vitals provides an optimal balance of NPK and micronutrients in a single, cost- effective product.

Find these and more ag products available for online purchase and fast shipping — typically in only three days or less  — by visiting FBN Direct

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