Disease Control


SASRI conducts research and provides services to minimise the effects of diseases on crop production. While many diseases affect sugarcane, five are common and are regarded as particularly serious, having a major economic impact on the crop. These are ratoon stunt (RSD), smut, mosaic, and brown and tawny rust.

All our advice and information on disease control can be found in the various publications, videos and services described below.

Sharon McFarlane

Senior Plant Pathologist


Senior Plant Pathologist

Tel: 031 508 7400 (Switchboard)
Tel: 031 508 7523 (Direct)
Email: sharon.mcfarlane@sugar.org.za

Role & Overall Purpose
  • To investigate outbreaks of disease in the field and to provide advice and support to Extension specialists and Local Pest, Disease and Variety Control Committees (LPD&VCC) relating to the identification, monitoring and management of sugarcane diseases.
  • To conceive, initiate, conduct and direct research in applied sugarcane pathology in order to provide a sound basis for the understanding of the epidemiologies of pathogens and for the management of diseases.
  • Extension pathology.
  • Communicating research findings and observations to growers, LPD&VCC’s and other interested parties.
  • Molecular identification of Fusarium species in sugarcane.
Research Interests
  • Diagnosis, epidemiology and management of diseases.
  • Effect of Fusarium species isolated from sugarcane on the development and fecundity of the borer Eldana Saccharina.
Key Outcomes
  • The development of mosaic and smut management strategies for the Mpumalanga region, Identification of fungicides for smut and brown rust management.
  • Certain Fusarium species isolated from sugarcane are attractive, promote the development and improve the fecundity of Eldana saccharina while other species are avoided by larvae and have a detrimental effect on larval development in vitro.
Key Publications

McFarlane, SA, Meyer, JH, Cadet, P and Rutherford, RS (2008). Investigation into the effect of nutrition on brown rust development in sugarcane. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass (in press).

van Antwerpen, T, McFarlane, SA, Buchanan, GF, Shepherd, DN, Martin, DP, Rybicki, ER and Varsani, A (2007). First report of maize streak virus infection of sugarcane in South Africa. Plant Disease (in press).

McFarlane, SA and Rutherford, RS (2005). Fusarium species isolated from sugarcane in KwaZulu-Natal and their effect on Eldana saccharina (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) development in vitro. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 79: 120-124.

  • BSc Honours (Natal).
  • MSc (Natal).

Information Sheets


Sugarcane diseases in Southern Africa

Disease control in sugarcane and the maintenance of optimum productivity depends on planting resistant or tolerant varieties; planting good quality, disease-free seedcane; eliminating volunteers before replanting; inspecting and roguing cane fields regularly; eradicating severely infected fields; and managing the crop well. The various diseases occurring in sugarcane in southern Africa are described, together with recommendations for their control.

View Book

Pest and Disease Guide

This is a handy pocket guide for easy identification of pests and diseases occurring in the South African sugar industry. The guide comes complete with pictures, descriptions of symptoms and brief related notes, and is available in both English and IsiZulu.

English | isiZulu

Standard Operating Procedure: Hot Water Treatment tanks

Seedcane used to establish Certified Nurseries is treated in hot water, mainly to eliminate ratoon stunt (RSD). Hot water treatment (HWT) for 2 hours at 50°C (±0.5°C) should eliminate populations of viable RSD bacteria in the seedcane that were too low to be detected through routine testing. This document outlines the operation of a 13-basket continuous output (Upfold) hot water treatment (HWT) tank used to treat seedcane before planting in a Certified Nursery.

View Book


Complete Biosecurity Diseases Guide

Common Leaf symptoms


English isiZulu

Eye Spot


Lead Scald

Maize Streak Virus


Pokkah Boeng

Stalk and Sett Rot


Sugarcane Smut

Sugarcane Rust
English  |  Afrikaans

Yellow Leaf Syndrome



Ratoon Stunt Diagnosis

Ratoon Stunt (RSD), a major sugarcane disease which causes substantial yield loss, can only be reliably diagnosed in a properly equipped laboratory. SASRI offers a diagnostic service to farmers and also provides advice on the management of the disease.

Extension and Biosecurity Service

Together with Local Pest, Disease and Variety Control Committees, SASRI acts to monitor diseases and implement procedures to mitigate damage and loss. They also ensure that only gazetted varieties are planted in each control area.

Special Advisory Requests

Service to investigate new products on behalf of commercial companies to facilitate registration. Investigations can include testing of herbicides, fungicides, ripeners, fertilisers and pesticides.


Research in Disease Control investigates the biology and ecology of the primary pathogens of the industry and their impact on crop yield, with a view to developing management strategies. Visit CROP PROTECTION for more info.

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