Phoma stem canker is an internationally important disease of oilseed rape (Brassica napus, canola, rapeseed), causing serious losses in Europe, Australia and North America. UK losses of Euro56M per season are estimated using national disease survey data and a yield loss formula. Phoma stem canker pathogen populations comprise two main species, Leptosphaeria maculans, associated with damaging stem base cankers, and Leptosphaeria biglobosa, often associated with less damaging upper stem lesions. Both major gene and quantitative trait loci mediated resistance to L. maculans have been identified in B. napus, but little is known about resistance to L. biglobosa. Leptosphaeria maculans, which has spread into areas in North America and eastern Europe where only L. biglobosa was previously identified, now poses a threat to large areas of oilseed rape production in Asia. Epidemics are initiated by air-borne ascospores; major gene resistance to initial infection by L. maculans operates in the leaf lamina of B. napus. It is not clear whether the quantitative trait loci involved in the resistance to the pathogen that can be assessed only at the end of the season operate in the leaf petioles or stems. In countries where serious phoma stem canker epidemics occur, a minimum standard for resistance to L. maculans is included in national systems for registration of cultivars. This review provides a background to a series of papers on improving strategies for managing B. napus resistance to L. maculans, which is a model system for studying genetic interactions between hemi-biotrophic pathogens and their hosts.