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RSD Testing in Sugarcane

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The cane on the right is normal. The cane on the left is stunted by RSD.

Sugarcane planting is underway in the industry and a struggle as usual. If there should be a window between planting and harvest (or during early harvest), it would be a good time to sample old stubble fields and test for ratoon stunting disease (RSD). This disease that caused serious losses for so many years is fortunately now at low incidence in the industry, but since it has no visible external symptoms, it may be persisting undetected on some farms. The only way to make sure that an expensive healthy seedcane program is working effectively is to test for the pathogen. The LSU AgCenter Sugarcane Disease Detection Lab offers a no-charge RSD testing service.

The RSD pathogen lives in the plant xylem, and detectable populations develop in mature cane. It is most abundant in the lowest/oldest part of the stalk, so a sample for RSD testing would consist of 20-30 intact internodes (with a node on either side) collected from the base of stalks scattered across both ends of a field. The internode samples of stalks for a field should be placed in a ziploc bag (2 gal works best) then brought in for testing. It is not necessary to refrigerate the samples, but they should not be exposed to direct sunlight/heating. We need to know the variety, crop cycle year, and the healthy seedcane source (ASCL original, Sugartech, or Kleentek). If the cane has been harvested more than 3-4 times since it was obtained from a healthy seedcane source, it should be considered as field-run. To avoid having to come onto the LSU campus (currently a madhouse), samples can be delivered to the Sugar Research Station at St. Gabriel or the West Baton Rouge extension office.

RSD is usually occurring at low incidence now. With a small sample size of 20-30 stalks, it is hard to detect low levels of disease. The disease is spread mechanically by the harvester, and it builds up with multiple cuttings. This means sampling old stubble at the end of the healthy seedcane pipeline will be the best opportunity to detect RSD persisting on the farm. This is quality control testing for the healthy seedcane program. If a problem is detected, we can work with the grower to correct it. Seedcane availability has been limited for L 01-283 for some time. This means increasing seed sources on the farm, so testing to insure this variety is healthy would be worthwhile.

If you have any questions about RSD or the testing program, please feel free to contact me. Thanks for your help in controlling this important disease.

Jeff Hoy

Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology
Room 302 Life Sciences Building
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Telephone: 225-578-1392
Mobile: 225-485-4227
Fax: 225-578-1415

Photos provided by Jeff Hoy

An electron micrograph of a sugarcane vascular bundle taken by K. Damann. The RSD pathogen infects the water conducting vessels (the two big monkey eyes in the bundle) and blocks the plant’s plumbing resulting in stunted growth, particularly in stubble under drought conditions.


An electron micrograph showing the bacteria that cause RSD inside a cane plant water vessel.

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