Skip to main content

10 April, 2024

Bright yellow fields of oilseed rape are becoming a rarer sight in western Europe as growers struggle to control pests with an ever-limited arsenal of chemical products. In some areas of the UK for instance, the crop area has fallen by as much as 70%. Yet demand for seed oils is increasing. Recent political turmoil, such as the war in Ukraine, has only exacerbated the supply problem. Without effective pest control strategies, further declines in production seem inevitable.

It is timely, then, that a special edition of the journal Pest Management Science seeking to shed some light on new integrated crop protection approaches for oilseeds has been published this month. The focus is on the development and use of more sustainable alternatives to synthetic pesticides. These are urgently needed to ensure sustained and sustainable production of oilseed crops. 

Oilseed plants have a very important place among cultivated crops. They provide vegetable oil and high-energy animal feed, thus provide a healthy option to address the need for fats in the diet of humans and animals. Oilseeds are also increasingly used as biofuels and significant rises in demand have resulted in vast increases in their cultivation globally. 

“This popularity has led to proliferation of the pests that affect the crops, in particular insects that feed on the plants and pathogens that cause diseases,” said lead editor of the special edition Dr Sam Cook, a crop protection specialist at Rothamsted Research. “Like most of arable agriculture, pest control in oilseed crops has become reliant on synthetic chemistry but overuse has resulted in serious problems including pest resistance and environmental pollution.” 

A working group (WG) of the International Organization for Biological Control (IOBC) was formed in 1990 to address these issues. The Special Issue of Pest Management Science is inspired by the biannual meeting held online in 2022; and contains papers presented at this meeting as well as contributions from other members of the rapeseed research community. 

The issue focuses on integrated pest control in rapeseed, mainly oilseed rape (Brassica napus),which represents 60% of the current oilseed production of the European Union. This makes the EU the biggest producer of oilseed rape worldwide. Its main pests include cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB), pollen beetles and fungal diseases like Phoma leaf spot and stem canker.

“In many field situations the cultivation of oilseed rape requires high amounts of pesticides, which has negative environmental impacts and leads to pesticide resistance. Legislation in the European Union has decreased the number of effective active substances so alternative plant protection strategies are in great demand. Biological control approaches offer exciting potential,” said Dr Cook. 

Papers in the journal include studies showing the potential for control of CSFB by based on nematodes and pathogenic fungi, details of how new approaches to the taxonomy of disease-causing organisms are opening up novel avenues of control, and advances in surveillance technology such as using optical sensors to spot invading bugs. Improved understanding of the migration and ecology of insect pests is also providing promising insights for more targeted management strategies.

“We hope these lines of research can ultimately contribute to healthier and safer food products and a less polluted environment through reduced use of synthetic pesticides,” said Dr Cook.


Dr Samantha Cook

Behavioural Ecologist


Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries in areas as diverse as crop management, statistical interpretation and soil health. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative approach to developing innovative farm practice.
Through independent research, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally, with economic impact estimated to exceed £3 bn in annual contribution to the UK economy. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and multiple partnerships.
Rothamsted is home to three unique National Bioscience Research Infrastructures which are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests to push back the frontiers of biology and deliver a healthy, prosperous and sustainable future. Through our investments, we build and support a vibrant, dynamic and inclusive community which delivers ground-breaking discoveries and develops bio-based solutions that contribute to tackling global challenges, such as sustainable food production, climate change, and healthy ageing.
As part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), we not only play a pivotal role in fostering connections that enable the UK’s world-class research and innovation system to flourish – we also have a responsibility to enable the creation of a research culture that is diverse, resilient, and engaged.
BBSRC proudly forges interdisciplinary collaborations where excellent bioscience has a fundamental role. We pioneer approaches that enhance the equality, diversity, and inclusion of talent by investing in people, infrastructure, technologies, and partnerships on a global scale.


The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.