Assessing The Risk Of Frost Injury To Late Maturing Corn

Sep 04, 2014

Peter Thomison

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service ( as of August 31, 87 percent of Ohio’s corn acreage was in the dough stage (R4), nearly the same as the five-year average of 88 percent. Forty-one percent of the corn acreage was in the dent stage (R5), compared to 49 percent for the five-year average. In some areas of the state corn is considerably behind the five-year average because of late planting ( the result of persistent rains and excessively wet soils that delayed planting in some localized areas) and cooler than normal temperatures in July. This later than normal maturation of the corn crop had led to questions about the likelihood for frost damage and whether more fuel will be needed to dry corn.

In Ohio, physiological maturity (when kernels have obtained maximum dry weight and black layer has formed) typically occurs about 65 days after silking. At physiological maturity (kernel moisture approximately 30-35%), frosts have little or no effect on the yield potential of the corn crop.

Dr. Bob Nielsen at Purdue University has summarized research findings from Indiana and Ohio that provide insight into both the calendar  days and thermal time (growing degree days, GDDs)  typically required for grain at various stages of development to achieve physiological maturity (kernel black layer, R6). This research was conducted at two locations in Indiana (west central and southeast) and two locations in Ohio (northwest and southwest) with three hybrids representing 97, 105, and 111 "day" relative maturities planted in early May, late May, and early June. The calendar days and thermal time from silking to black layer for the 111-day hybrid maturity are shown in Table 1 (from

The study indicated that corn planted in early June compared to early May requires 200 to 300 fewer GDDs to achieve physiological maturity.  According to Dr.Nielsen, while slightly different responses among the four locations of the trial existed, there did not seem to be a consistent north / south relationship. Therefore, growers can use the results summarized in the following table to "guesstimate" the number of calendar days or heat units necessary for a late-planted field at a given grain fill stage to mature safely prior to that killing fall freeze.

Frost Corn Thomison

How many GDDs can be expected from now until an average date of a killing frost for an adapted 111 day hybrid planted in mid June?  To answer this question, estimate the expected GDD accumulation from Sept. 2 until the average frost date (50% probability) for different regions of the state (Table 2).  These GDD expectations are based on 30-year historical normals reported by the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service. The GDD accumulation was calculated using the 86/50 cutoff, base 50 method.

 If you want to determine the "youngest stage of corn development" that can safely reach black layer before the average frost date at a given weather station, use the information in Table 2 on remaining GDD in conjunction with Table 1 which indicates GDDs needed to reach black layer at various stages of grain fill. Compare "GDDs remaining" for the site with the GDD required to achieve black layer depending on the corn's developmental stage.

Table 2. Estimated GDDs remaining from Sept. 2 to the first fall frost for Ohio.



Median Frost Date

(50% probability)

Estimated GDDs Remaining

From Sept. 2 to Fall Frost


Oct 10 – Oct 20

412 - 462

North Central

Oct 10 – Oct 25

400 - 485


Sept 30 – Oct 25

351 - 497

West Central

Oct 10 – Oct 15

447 - 504


Oct 5 – Oct 15

461 -522

East Central

Sept 30 – Oct 15

377- 495


Oct 10 – Oct 15

473 - 536

South Central

Oct 15 – Oct 20

554 - 606


Oct 5 – Oct 15

447 - 507

If your corn is in the dent stage (R5) as of Sept. 2, will it be safe from frost? Table 1 indicates that corn planted in mid - June required about 217 GDDs to reach black layer from R5 and Table 2 indicates that all regions of the state are likely to accumulate sufficient GDDs before the 50% frost date.

However, if your corn is in the “milk” stage (R3) as of Sept. 2, it might be a different story. The kernel development - GDD accumulation relationships in Table 1 indicate that corn planted in mid-June that is at R3 needs about 681 GDDs to reach black layer. Table 2 indicates that only one region of the state (south central Ohio) comes close to accumulating that number of GDDs before the 50% frost date with the East Central and Northeast regions least likely to accumulate the GDDs required to achieve physiological maturity.

The research results in Table 1demonstrate that late planted corn has the ability to adjust its maturity requirements, and most of this adjustment occurs during the late kernel development stages. In previous growing seasons when GDD accumulation was markedly less than normal, the corn crop has usually achieved physiological maturity before the first frost occurred.

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