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Rothamsted Scientists Identify Growing Threat to Cereal Crops

25 September 2012

UK - Scientists at the world-renowned Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from the BBSRC, have identified a growing threat from the grain aphid (Sitobion avenae), a major crop pest that can reduce farmers' yields by damaging cereal crops and spreading plant diseases, most notably the Barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV).

This new research, funded by a large consortium consisting of the Chemical Regulations Directorate/DEFRA, Agrochemical companies and Levy boards, suggests that grain aphids are becoming more resistant to the popular pyrethroid insecticides. Pyrethroids, also discovered at Rothamsted Research, account for a quarter of insecticide-based control agents worldwide and the reason for this increased resistance may be due to the number of grain aphids carrying the knock-down resistance (kdr) mechanism which has increased in frequency this year.

The grain aphid (Sitobion avenae).
Credit: Rothamsted Research Ltd

Whilst there is a suggestion that these problems could affect UK farmers as early as this autumn, research leader Dr Steve Foster of Rothamsted Research, said: "Our research does give us cause for concern but we should not panic just yet because BYDV is also transmitted by the bird cherry-oat aphid which is a more important vector and there's no sign of kdr in this aphid yet". He added that: "when grain aphids are the main pest present then growers need to be aware that pyrethroid sprays may not be effective. If growers apply timely applications at the full dose rate and suspect that control has been poor then they should not spray again with a pyrethroid-based product but switch to an insecticide with an alternative mode of action."

Two new publications have been released which will assist with management of grain aphids this autumn, including best practice measures to limit the risk of resistance and strategies that could be deployed if resistance is suspected during the autumn spraying period.

A new HGCA publication (Information Sheet 16) contains the latest information on aphid management in both cereals and oilseed rape.

A new IRAG publication provides specific advice on the control of grain aphid populations that may contain individuals with resistance to pyrethroid sprays.

Professor Lin Field, Head of the Biological Chemistry and Crop Protection Department at Rothamsted Research which receive strategic funding from BBSRC, stressed that: "We should not take our eye off the ball, the threat of pyrethroid resistance is very real and we need to continue researching to establish how potent this resistance is and whether pyrethroids will work in the future."

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