Cotton growers in Maharashtra are concerned about reports of Pink Bollworm (PBW) infestation in an increasing number of villages. As of last week, at least 77 villages have reported infestation, up from 50 in the last week of July.
After a season relatively free of infestation in 2019-20, the present cotton season has seen early signs of infestation.
D B Undirwade, professor of the Akola-based Punjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth, had first reported infestation in Talera taluka of the district. The pest was reported in fields where farmers had done pre-monsoon sowing. Undirwade, in his report, had said the nationwide lockdown could have distracted from the necessary field preparation, which led to the resurgence of the pest in the new crop.
Undirwade and other agriculture scientists say July is crucial for the cotton crop as the dormant larvae of the PBW in the unopened boll and stalks of the last crop complete their lifecycle and lay eggs in the new crop.
In case of pre-monsoon sowing, the crop attains the square formation (bud) and flowering stage so the newly hatched larvae can survive and complete their lifecycle and lay more eggs. If sowing is delayed for want of squares, flower and bolls, the last generation starves to death due to lack of food.
Advisories from the agriculture department have repeatedly urged farmers to delay sowing to break this chain, but farmers, especially those who have access to irrigation, tend to start sowing prior to monsoon, making their crop vulnerable to infestation.
At present, 77 villages in 20 of the main cotton growing districts in the state have reported infestation above their economic threshold limit (ETL). The ETL is the pest population at which control measures have to be initiated to prevent economic loss – for PBW, it is breached if 8-10 moths are trapped per pheromone trap for three consecutive nights.
The largest number of villages that have reported infestation are in Aurangabad (20) and Jalna (17). Control measures have been initiated with agriculture officers saying only 17 villages have so far reported infestation above ETL.
Undirwade and other agriculture scientists are now seeking a mission-based approach to stop the spread of the pest. “Previously, the pest was observed in the pre-monsoon sowing but since then, chances of the pest infesting the last sown crop has increased. We should ensure timely action is taken,” he said.
Farm activist Vijay Jawandhiya said that the agriculture department should ensure availability of preventive chemicals at all cotton growing villages. “The pest spreads fast and farmers need to be empowered to be take preventive measures at the earliest. Agricultural extension officers should ensure all pesticides are made available at concessional rates across the state,” he said.
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