Pest Control


Several pests affect sugarcane but, fortunately, there are only a few major pests that cause serious economic harm. Insect pests are usually grouped into four broad categories, namely Leaf Eaters, Leaf Suckers, Stem Borers and Soil Pests. The Stalk Borer, Eldana, is the industry’s most serious pest, resulting in a total loss (direct and indirect) of over R 1 billion per season, if uncontrolled.

SASRI advocates an Integrated Pest management (IPM) approach to suppressing insect pest levels. IPM involves integration of several pest control techniques to discourage the development of pest populations and to keep pesticide usage at levels that are economically justified and environmentally responsible.

Dr Stuart Rutherford

Programme Manager: Crop Protection


Programme Manager: Crop Protection

Tel: 031 508 7400 (Switchboard)
Tel: 031 508 7529 (Direct)

Role & Overall Purpose

As a programme leader, I am responsible for coordinating and managing research within the Crop Protection Research Programme at SASRI. In this role I am involved in the development of the annual programme of work through encouraging focus, innovation and collaboration in research. As a scientist, my role is to initiate, conduct and supervise research leading to best management practices for sugarcane crop protection in South Africa. I am also currently a National Research Foundation (NRF)-rated scientist.


Plant Pathology, Entomology, Integrated Pest Management, Soil Science, Physiology & Biochemistry, Molecular Biology.

Research Interests
  • Genomics of pest and disease resistance.
  • Mechanisms of resistance to biotic and abiotic stress.
  • Rapid prediction of pest and disease resistance ratings in sugarcane e.g. using Near Infrared.
  • Primed epigenetic in-vitro mutation breeding for resistance to biotic and abiotic stressors.
  • Plant physiological and priming effects of modern crop protection chemistries.
  • Insect pest, host-plant and microbial interactions. Endophytic Beauveria  and Bacillus for pest control.
  • Application of Chemical Ecology in Integrated Pest Management Systems.
Key Outcomes
  • The development of NIR as a means of phenotyping pest and disease resistance in sugarcane.
  • Herbicide tolerant sugarcane produced by mutagenesis.
  • Fusarium resistant sugarcane produced by mutagenesis having improved resistance to Eldana saccharina.
  • The production of an IPM book on eldana control.
Key Publications

Koetle, M.J., Jacob, R.M., Snyman, S.J. and Rutherford R.S. (2023). Long-term cultivation of adaptable cultivars in different agro-climatic zones influences the epigenetic diversity of South African sugarcane (Saccharum spp.). Sugar Tech. 25: 491–495.

Koetle, M.J., Osborn, C., Snyman, S.J. and Rutherford R.S. (2023). The 5-azacytidine-induced epimutagenesis of sugarcane (Saccharum spp. hybrids) for aluminium tolerance. Biochimica Biophysica Acta. 1867: 130491.

Koetle, M.J., Snyman, S.J. and Rutherford R.S. (2023). Rapid identification of drought tolerant sugarcane epimutants via in vitro chimera dissolution and near infrared screening ex vitro. Plant Stress.

Koetle, M.J., Snyman, S.J. and Rutherford, R.S. (2022). Ex vitro morpho-physiological screening of drought tolerant sugarcane epimutants generated via 5-Azacytidine and imidacloprid treatments. Tropical Plant Biology 15: 288–300.

McFarlane, S.A., Kistan, C.J., Koch, A.C., Naude, A. and Rutherford, R.S. (2022) First report of orange rust caused by Puccinia kuehnii on sugarcane in South Africa. Plant Dis.

Mahlanza, T., Rutherford, R.S., Snyman, S.J. and Watt, M.P. (2019). Methylglyoxal-induced enhancement of somatic embryogenesis and associated metabolic changes in sugarcane (Saccharum spp. hybrids). Plant Cell Tissue & Organ Culture 136: 279-286.

Rutherford, R.S., McFarlane, S., Memela, N. and Snyman, S. (2019). Harnessing the sugarcane microbiome for improved resistance to the stalk borer Eldana saccharina Walker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Proceedings of the International Society of Sugarcane Technologists 30: 1721-1727.

Snyman, S.J., Naidoo, M., Watt, M.P. and Rutherford, R.S. (2019). An in vitro screening system to assess aluminium toxicity in sugarcane (Saccharum spp.). In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology – Plant 55: 403-408.

Koetle, M., Evans, D.L., Singh, V., Snyman, S., Rutherford, R.S. and Watt, P. (2018). Agronomic evaluation and molecular characterisation of the acetolactate synthase gene in imazapyr tolerant sugarcane (Saccharum hybrid) genotypes. Plant Cell Reports 37: 1201-1213.

Keeping, M.G., Miles, N. and Rutherford, R.S. (2017). Liming an acid soil treated with diverse silicon sources: effects on silicon uptake by sugarcane (Saccharum spp. hybrids). Journal of Plant Nutrition. 40: 1417-1436.

Martin, L.A., Evans, D.L., Castlebury, L.A., Sifundza, J.T., Comstock, J.C., Rutherford, R.S. and McFarlane, S.A. (2017). Macruropyxis fulva sp. nov., an undescribed rust (Pucciniales) infecting sugarcane in southern Africa. Australasian Plant Pathology 46: 63-74 DOI 10.1007/s13313-016-0460-1

Martin, L.A., Rutherford, R.S. and McFarlane, S.A. (2017). Touchdown PCR assay for the rapid diagnosis of tawny rust caused by Macruropyxis fulva on sugarcane. Australasian Plant Pathology 46: 103-105 DOI 10.1007/s13313-016-0464-x

Naidoo, N., Ghai, M., Moodley, K., Mkhize, L., Martin, L., McFarlane, S. and Rutherford, R.S. (2017). Modified RS-LAMP assay and use of lateral flow devices (LFDs) for rapid detection of Leifsonia xyli subsp. xyli (Lxx). Letters in Applied Microbiology 65: 496-503.

Rutherford, R.S., Maphalala, K.Z., Koch, A.C., Snyman, S.J. and Watt, M.P. (2017). Field and laboratory assessments of sugarcane mutants selected in vitro for resistance to the imidazolinone herbicide imazapyr. Crop Breeding and Applied Biotechnology, 17: 107-114.

Keeping, M.G., Rutherford, R.S., Sewpersad, C. and Miles, N. (2015) Provision of nitrogen as ammonium rather than nitrate increases silicon uptake in sugarcane. AoB PLANTS 7: plu080; doi:10.1093/aobpla/plu080

Mahlanza, T., Rutherford, R.S., Snyman, S.J. and Watt, M.P. (2015) Potential of Fusarium sacchari-tolerant mutants in controlling Eldana saccharina and borer-associated Fusarium stem rot in sugarcane. European Journal of Plant Pathology 141: online.

Way, M.J., Conlong, D.E., Martin, L.A., McFarlane, S.A., Stranack, R., Keeping, M.G. and Rutherford, R.S. (2015). First record of yellow sugarcane aphid, Sipha flava (Homoptera: Aphididae), in the South African sugarcane industry. International Sugar Journal, 117: 654-656.

Ghai, M., Singh, V., Martin, L.A., McFarlane, S.A., van Antwerpen, T. and Rutherford, R.S. (2014) A rapid and visual loop-mediated isothermal amplification assay to detect Leifsonia xyli subsp. xyli targeting a transposase gene. Lett. Appl. Microbiol. 59: 648-657.

Mahlanza, T., Rutherford, R.S., Snyman, S.J. and Watt, M.P. (2014) Eldana saccharina (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) resistance in sugarcane (Saccharum sp.): Effects of Fusarium spp., stalk rind, fibre and nitrogen content. Afr. Entomol. 22: 810-822.

Rhodes, R., Berry, S.D., Ramouthar, P.V. and Rutherford, R.S. (2014) Evaluation of Desmodium uncinatum, Fagopyrum esculentumand Brachiaria humidicola as potential green manure crops for nematode management in sugarcane. S Afr. J. Plant Soil. 31: 25–33.

Rutherford, R.S. (2014) Mechanisms of Resistance to Pests and Pathogens in Sugarcane and Related Species. In F.C. Botha & P.H. Moore (Eds.), Sugarcane Physiology, Biochemistry, and Functional Biology. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-0-8138-2121-4.

Rutherford, R.S., Snyman, S.J. and Watt, M.P. (2014) In vitro studies on somaclonal variation and induced mutagenesis: Progress and prospects in sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) – a review. J.Hort. Sci. & Biotech. 89: 1-16.

Sabatier, D.R., Moon, C.M., Mhora, T.T., Rutherford, R.S. and Laing, M.D. (2014) Near-infrared reflectance (NIR) spectroscopy as a high-throughput screening tool for pest and disease resistance in a sugarcane breeding programme. Int. Sugar J. 116: 580-583.

Mahlanza, T., Rutherford, R.S., Snyman, S.J. and Watt, M.P. (2013) In vitro generation of somaclonal variant plants of sugarcane for tolerance to Fusarium sacchari. Plant Cell Rep. 32: 249-262.

Munsamy, A., Rutherford, R.S., Snyman, S.J. and Watt, M.P. (2013). 5-Azacytidine as a tool to induce somaclonal variants with useful traits in sugarcane (Saccharum spp.). Plant Biotech. Rep. 7: 489-502.

Goble, T.A., Costet, L., Robene, I., Nibouche, S., Rutherford, R.S., Conlong, D. and Hill, M. (2012) Beauveria brongniartii epizootics on white grubs attacking sugarcane in South Africa. J. Invert. Pathol. 111: 225-236.

Koch, A.C., Ramgareeb, S., Rutherford, R.S., Snyman, S.J. & Watt, M.P. (2012) An in vitro mutagenesis protocol for the production of sugarcane tolerant to the herbicide imazapyr. In Vitro Cellular Devel.Biol. – Plant 48: 417-427.

Way, M.J., Conlong, D.E. and Rutherford, R.S. (2012) Biosecurity against invasive alien insect pests: A case study of Chilo sacchariphagus (Lepidoptera: Crambidae) in the southern African region. Int. Sugar J. 114: 359-363.

Ramgareeb , S., Snyman, S.J., van Antwerpen, T. and Rutherford, R.S. (2010) Elimination of virus and rapid propagation of disease-free sugarcane (Saccharum spp. cultivar NCo376) using apical meristem culture. Plant Cell, Tissue Organ Cult. 100: 175-181.

Conlong, D.E. and Rutherford, R.S. (2009) Conventional and New Biological and Habitat Interventions for Integrated Pest Management Systems: Review and Case Studies using Eldana saccharina Walker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). In R. Peshin & A.K. Dhawan (Eds.), Integrated Pest Management Vol. 1: Innovation-Development Process, Springer, ISBN 978-1-4020-8991-6.

McFarlane, S.A., Govender, P. and Rutherford, R.S. (2009) Interactions between Fusarium species from sugarcane and the stalk borer Eldana saccharina Walker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Ann. Appl. Biol. 155: 349-359

Keeping, M.G., Rutherford, R.S. and Conlong, D.E. (2007) Bt maize as a potential trap crop for management of Eldana saccharina Walker (Lep., Pyralidae) in sugarcane. J. Appl. Entomol. 131: 241-250.

Rutherford R.S. (2007) Sugarcane Diseases, ecology, and control. In D. Pimentel (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Pest Management Vol 2.pp 643-646. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis. ISBN 13: 978-1-4200-5361-6

Butterfield, M., Rutherford, R., Carson, D. and Huckett, B. (2004) Application of gene discovery to varietal improvement in sugarcane. SA J. Bot. 70: 167-172.

Heinze, B.S., Thokoane, L.N., Williams, N.J., Barnes, J.M. and Rutherford, R.S. (2001) The smut-sugarcane interaction as a model system for the integration of marker discovery and gene isolation. Proc. S. Afr. Sug. Technol. Ass 75: 88-93.

Thokoane, L.N. and Rutherford, R.S. (2001) cDNA-AFLP differential display of sugarcane (Saccharum spp, hybrids) genes induced by challenge with the fungal pathogen Ustilago scitaminea (sugarcane smut). Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 75: 104-107.

Rutherford, R.S. (1998) Prediction of resistance in sugarcane to the stalk borer Eldana saccharina Walker by near infrared spectroscopy on crude bud scale extracts. The involvement of chlorogenates and flavonoids. J. Chem. Ecol. 24: 1447-1463

Rutherford, R.S. and van Staden J. (1996) Towards a rapid near infra-red technique for the prediction of resistance to the sugarcane borer Eldana saccharina Walker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) using stalk surface wax. J. Chem. Ecol. 22: 681-693.

Rutherford, R.S., Smith, G.S. and van Staden, J. (1994) Development of a meridic diet for the sugarcane borer, Eldana saccharinaWalker (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Principles, problems and possible in vivo plant resistance mechanisms. Afr. Entomol. 2: 163-174.


  • Honorary Lecturer – University of KwaZulu-Natal (2012 – Present).
  • BSc Hons (Reading), MBA (Cardiff) PhD (Natal).



Thrips and YSA Control Manual

This manual serves as a valuable resource for growers, equipping them with the knowledge and tools necessary for the identification of Thrips and YSA. Moreover, it offers a wealth of practical guidance on control measures for these pests, including the optimisation of natural habitats, the reduction of plant stress through the management of soil physical and biological health, the selection of suitable crop varieties, and the implementation of sound field hygiene practices.
The manual highlights the importance of adjusting planting dates to minimise the risk of infestations and emphasises the critical role of proper nutrition management.
Growers are strongly encouraged to regularly scout their fields for the presence of these pests and are provided with expert advice on the judicious use of registered insecticides for the control of Thrips and YSA.

View Manual

Controlling eldana in the South African sugar industry

The manual covers the following best management practices for eldana control:

Manage the natural habitat of eldana
Choose appropriate varieties
Use only clean, healthy seedcane
Reduce plant stress
Ensure adequate silicon uptake
Manage nitrogen applications
Select carry-over fields carefully
Defoliate carry-over fields
Conduct regular surveys
Use of insecticide in carry-over fields
Chemical cane quality management
Practise stringent field hygiene
Abide by local pest, disease and variety control committee regulations and guidelines

View Manual

IPM for eldana control

This book represents far more than a collection of best management practices for eldana control. Rather, it has been written for those who wish to get a deeper insight into the mechanisms that govern the interactions between eldana, the sugarcane crop and the various practices recommended for control of this pest. For this purpose, it has been necessary to include a high level of technical detail, and to draw on several other SASRI publications to describe the complex interactions at play.

View Manual

Sugarcane pests in Southern Africa

Described in this bulletin are insect pests that most frequently damage sugarcane in southern Africa. Pests have been categorised by the type of damage they cause and are considered in order of their importance in the industry. Guidelines are Included for control of these pests. However, confirmation of pest identity and control options from SASRI specialists are advisable before taking action. Symptoms of damage can be similar for different pests and expensive control options may be implemented where not necessary.

View Manual


Biosecurity team file on pests

Chilo Biosecurity Alert
English | Afrikaans | isiZulu | SiSwati | Portuguese

Longhorn Beetle damage symptoms
English | Afrikaans | isiZulu

Longhorn Beetle Biosecurity Alert
English | Afrikaans | isiZulu

English | isiZulu

Recommendations for eldana control


Damage caused by eldana (isiZulu)

Role of Pest and Disease Committees (isiZulu)



SASRI’s Biosecurity staff work together with Local Pest, Disease and Variety Control Committees to prevent or minimise loss and damage caused by pests and diseases.

Extension and Biosecurity Service

SASRI Extension Specialists located throughout the South African sugar industry are available to offer advice and support on crop nutrition and all other aspects of sugarcane farming.

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 on pest control develops integrated management strategies that minimise the effects of pests on crop production in a sustainable manner. Visit CROP PROTECTION for more info.

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