Missing kernels at the end of corn ears are often referred to as “tip back.” Tip back can often be associated with poor pollination, but it can also be a symptom of many different things occurring at different points in time.
Though it is hard to determine exactly what causes tip back, agronomists usually associate it with stress. According to the University of Illinois, drought, loss of leaf area or lack of nitrogen can result in stress that lowers photosynthesis and in turn, decreases the sugar supply. This decrease in available sugars due to one or more infield stresses often results in kernels being aborted. While drought and/or reduced available nitrogen from a wet spring can’t always be avoided, artificial stress from planting too high of a seeding rate can be managed with good knowledge of how hybrids respond to high and low populations. It’s also important to understand that some hybrids naturally tip back more than others, so don’t always jump to the conclusion that you have a problem that may need to be fixed.
Obviously there is nothing you can do to restore your missing kernels this year, but don’t beat yourself up. Even successful fields can experience varying amounts of tip back. Be sure to ask your Syngenta representative or NK® Retailer for recommendations on how to choose the best population for your hybrid as well as minimize other stress on your hybrids in order to increase your kernel count.
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