Corn kernel sprouting, also known as “Vivipary”, is the premature germination of kernels while still on the cob. Vivipary is not a common problem but it is alarming enough that growers may become concerned. This occurs when the kernels are close to or have already reached black layer stage and are drier than 20 percent grain moisture. The combination of ears being upright, husks falling away from the ear, and warm wet weather can cause premature sprouting.
It is typically uncommon for ears with higher moisture content to be effected by vivipary. However, stalks with poor strength and increased lodging, allowing the ears to be close to the ground, may also increase the likelihood of kernel sprouting.
The hormones in the corn kernel could also play a role in premature sprouting. The balance between gibberellin and abscisic acid determine whether or not the seed will continue to develop into full maturity or if it will germinate given the appropriate conditions. Vivipary is commonly seen in ears with bird or insect damage, molds, or hail damage. By disrupting the kernel development, the hormones may become imbalanced which may explain why premature kernel germination is often seen in those situations.
When thinking of harvesting corn that had prematurely sprouted, several things need to be taken into consideration. Vivipary can cause poor quality grain corn so in order to decrease the impact, a timely harvest is important along with drying the grain at a high temperature to stop any further sprouting and to remove any currently developing sprouts. It may also be beneficial to screen the grain prior to storing it to reduce the amount of damaged grain in the bin. If molds have developed on the germinated ears, be cautious about feeding to livestock before checking the toxin levels. With the way the weather is going this fall, we are seeing more and more sprouting in ears across the region. We want to make sure that we are keeping our eyes open for this as we get in the fields to harvest. This year things are drying down much faster than expected and stalk strength may become an issue. As mentioned, lodging can contribute to an increase in vivipary and other issues as well. I recommend getting the corn out of the field as soon as we can to prevent any stalk issues that may arise as the corn gets drier and weaker.
If you have any questions regarding premature corn sprouting, please contact Cassidy Fletcher, Northeast Sales Agronomist and Technical Lead.