by: Dan Quinn and Darcy Telenko, Purdue University
Due to its relatively recent U.S. discovery and its ability to cause significant production and economic losses, tar spot is often a topic of angst and anxiety amongst corn farmers and agronomists in Indiana. For example, a severely infected field can reach yield losses upwards of 60 bushels per acre! Yield losses are often a result of reduced photosynthetic capacity (green leaf area) of the corn plant during grain fill resulting in poor grain fill, kernel abortion, and reduced kernel weight. In addition, severe infection can reduce corn stalk integrity and cause significant lodging later in the season. Tar spot was first confirmed in northwest Indiana in 2015 and the first significant yield-reducing event of the disease was observed in 2018. Similarly, severe outbreaks and large areas of infection of this disease were observed in Indiana in 2021. Tar spot is caused by the fungus known as Phyllachora maydis and can be identified by small, raised black and circular spots present on corn leaves, stalks, and husks (Figure 1). These black and circular spots are known as fungal fruiting structures called stromata, each of which can produce thousands of spores. Overall, tar spot infection and severity can vary based on environmental conditions, the total amount of the pathogen present in the field, and corn hybrid chosen.
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