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Rothamsted scientists identify growing threat to cereal crops

11 September 2012

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
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."

Both publications can be downloaded from

Note to editors

The resistance testing has been conducted at Rothamsted Research as part of a HGCA Student Bursary scheme project which has enabled additional data to be collected for a collaborative project entitled Combating resistance to aphicides in UK aphid pests which is funded by a large consortium consisting of the Chemical Regulations Directorate/DEFRA, Agrochemical companies and Levy boards.

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research has been providing cutting-edge science and innovation in agriculture for over 160 years. It receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.

About the HGCA

HGCA is the cereals and oilseeds division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). HGCA aims to deliver a world class arable industry through independence, innovation and investment. It funds research, knowledge transfer, marketing, export and promotional activities for the cereals and oilseeds sector in the UK. Find out more at


The Insecticide Resistance Action Group (IRAG-UK) aims to provide information on resistance avoidance and management strategies for use by UK farmers and growers, advisers and regulatory authorities. Find out more at


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M (2011-2012), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see:
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see:

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