Early signs of pink bollworm (PBW) infestation in Maharashtra’s cotton fields has raised an alarm for farmers and the Agriculture Department. The infestation, which was reported in 51 villages, has been mainly in fields which saw sowing before the first week of June.
Cotton growers count PBW as one of the most dreaded pests for their crops. The worm completes its lifecycle in the crop and eats through the square (bud) flower and the lint of cotton. If not controlled early, PBW can wreak havoc in the cotton crop. In 2017-18, cotton growers in the state had reported losses due to repeated attacks by the worm in their fields.
The first sign of infestation was reported from villages in Telhara taluka of Akola district in Vidarbha region. D B Undirwade, a professor at Akola-based Punjabrao Deshmukj Krishi Vidyapeeth, said he noticed the infestation in multiple fields. “The crop in question was almost 45-50 days old, and was thus planted before the first week of June,” he said. Signs of infestation were seen in moths caught in pheromone traps (special contraptions with the female sex hormone to trap male moths). Deformed flowers, which are a clear mark of infestation, were also seen in the fields. Other than Akola, PBW infestation was reported from districts of Ahmednagar, Jalna and Amaravati.
Undirwade said dormant larvae of insects live in unopened bolls and other stalks of the old crop, and once the new crop is sown, the insect completes its lifecycle and lays eggs in the growing cotton crop. In case of early sowing, flowering and a square formation (bud) begin to form 45-50 days after sowing, allowing the newly emerged larvae to feed and grow.
N K Bhute, assistant entomologist from the Cotton Improvement Centre (CIC) of Mahatma Phule Krushi Vidyapeeth, said newly emerged larvae feed only on squares (buds) or flowers, and cannot feed on the leaf. In want of both, the larvae dies without causing any major damage to the crop.
However, in case of early cotton sowing, the completion of the lifecycle and emergence of the next generation overlap with the emergence of squares and flowers of the crop. “Thus, they tend to get enough matter to start a new generation,” he said.
Bhute said villages in Nevasa and Shrirampur in Ahmednagar district have reported PBW infestation above the economic threshold limit or ETL, which is the measure of pest population per density at which pest control measures are initiated. In case of PBW, eight to ten moths are trapped in pheromone traps for three consecutive nights.
Farmers are advised to delay their sowing to avoid infestation, but in most cases – especially where irrigation is available – they tend to prepone their sowing. At present, chances of the pest spilling over to the crops sown late cannot be ruled out as well. “Farmers have to be extra vigilant to avoid a situation like that in 2017-18,” Undirwade said.
Maharashtra has reported 41.8 lakh hectares of cotton sowing this season, with farmers in Marathwada and Vidarbha mainly going for the fibre crop.
Dheeraj Kumar, Commissioner of Agricultre, said the department has pressed all of its ground staff into action to implement the standard operating protocol (SOP) to control the pest. “We will also ask the progressive farmers to help in controlling the infestation,” he said.