Ratoon Stunting Disease (RSD) was first identified as a disease (on a world basis) in Mackay in 1944.

Caused by a bacterium that lives in the vascular system of the cane plant, the disease restricts the plant’s ability to carry water – leading to lower yields.
Consistent and focused disease management is needed to minimise RSD incidence, including disease-free planting material, elimination of volunteer cane and sterilisation of cutting equipment. Yield losses range from 5-60%; the largest losses are associated with moisture stress (drought). The lack of external symptoms means the disease is easily overlooked and not appropriately managed.

What to look for

  • General stunting.
  • The diseased field may have an ‘up-and-down’ appearance due to differing levels of stunting in adjacent stools.
  • A discolouration of vascular bundles running through the plant, or a pink blush throughout the nodes of very young cane.
RSD infected cane beside healthy cane


Nearly all sugarcane varieties are susceptible to RSD to some degree.

Diseased planting material or contaminated cutting implements such as cane knives, harvesters or planting machines can spread RSD.

Cutting implements should be disinfected, especially when cutting seed cane. The use of clean planting material provided through industry-approved clean seed schemes is highly recommended.


We provide diagnostic assays for ratoon stunting disease. The SRA RSD laboratory tests approximately 8–10,000 samples each year for the Australian sugarcane industry. This helps ensure new crops are established from disease-free planting material and also provides feedback on disease incidence in commercial crops. Sampling for RSD diagnosis involves collecting at least 16–20 stalks throughout a field. Selecting stunted stools in a crop can increase the chances of detecting the disease, if it is present.

For information about this service, contact Dr Rob Magarey on rmagarey@sugarresearch.com.au or (07) 4088 0707.

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