Gujarat cotton farmers are battling a late attack by pink bollworm, a crop pest, with rainfall towards monsoon end and late-flowering providing conducive conditions. Officers of the agriculture department in the state are apprehensive that the infestation could lead to up to 15 per cent drop in the crop yield.
Pink bollworm infestation has been reported from major cotton-producing districts of Amreli, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Morbi, Jamnagar and
Pink bollworm Surendranagar in the Saurashtra region, known as the cotton bowl of Gujarat.
“The problem became serious in late October and early November as the second generation of the pests infested the crop. Almost all the major cotton-growing districts have been affected. The infestation is likely to cause 10 to 15 per cent drop in the yield,” Ramesh Tilwa, District Agriculture Officer (DOA) of Rajkot, said.
The attack is so severe in some pockets that some farmers, like Jignesh Unagar from Khambha village of Amreli district, are not even going for the third round of picking cotton from their fields. “During Diwali, I realised the pest infestation was severe despite spraying four rounds of pesticides.
Therefore, I stopped irrigating my field. There is some cotton in the field but picking it doesn’t make sense as pests have devoured the seeds and made the fibre stained and rotten. Picking such cotton, as against the natural white fluffy ones, is laborious. Therefore, I have decided to let cattle loose on the field and instead go for Rabi crop of chana (gram),” Unagar said.
Unagar has a five-hectare farm and had sowed cotton on around two hectares. The first two pickings yielded him a total of 16 quintals of kapas. The problem, Tilwa said, has been compounded this year by the fact that first reproductive flush of the crop had failed due to higher-than-average rainfall in August. In districts like Amreli, which received 200 per cent of its average rainfall, the second flush was also affected as rainy days persisted.
“This effectively delayed flowering but that coincided with the arrival of the second generation of pink bollworm pests. Rainfall in late September and October provided wet weather, ideal for the moths of the pests. The moths laid the eggs during this period. It is only now that farmers are realising the severity of the attack as cotton bolls have started opening up,” Jignesh Kanani, DOA of Amreli, said.
Pink bollworm infestation can be controlled primarily by targeting moths. According to Prof Mayur Variya, an entomologist with cotton research station at Junagadh Agricultural University (JAU), setting up pheromone traps, besides timely application of pesticides, is the easiest way to target moths. “But somehow, farmers are not taking pheromone trap seriously.
Also, farmers need to follow a strict crop protection regime from the 45th day onwards after sowing to keep any pest attack under check. Timely application of pesticides is crucial as moths of these pests lay eggs on petals of cotton flowers and larvae emerging from the eggs burrow into tender cotton bolls as soon as they are formed.
Once they manage to enter the bolls, it becomes difficult to control the infestation,” he said.
This year, Kanani said, due to extended spells of rain in July and August, the first two reproductive flush of the crop failed by and large and prompted higher vegetative growth. “When it was time for the third flush, spraying pesticides became difficult as the higher vegetative growth wouldn’t allow movement between two rows of cotton plants,” he added.
Gujarat is the largest cotton producer of the country with production hovering around 90 lakh bales, each containing 170 kg of seed-cotton.
However, the state has been witnessing pink bollworm attacks since 2014 and the problem has become more severe over the past three years, Prof Variya said, forcing farmers to look for other crops. This was reflected in cotton acreage dropping to 22.78 lakh hectare (lh) this year, 15 per cent lower than the previous three years’ average sowing area of 26.73 lh and last year’s 26.65 lh.
Amreli recorded cotton sowing in 3.31 lh, followed by Surendranagar (3.30 lh), Bhavnagar (2.25 lh), Rajkot (2 lh), Morbi (1.58 lh) and Botad (1.41 lh). In all, the 11 districts of Saurashtra region accounted for 15.35 lh of cotton acreage with the rest coming mainly from central Gujarat (3.23 lh) and north Gujarat (2 lh) regions.
The First Advance Estimate of the state government pegs cotton production in the state to 82.39 lakh bales, lower than last year’s estimated crop of 88 lakh bales. The government estimates the yield to remain around 18 quintals per hectare this year, marginally higher than last year’s 16.58 per quintals.
But officers say better market prices, which are in the range of around Rs 5,500 per quintal in agricultural produce market committees (APMCs) in the state, and compensation paid by the state government should offset crop losses. “Market prices this year are at around Rs 500 higher as compared to last year.
Plus, the state government has paid up to Rs 20,000 compensation to farmers this year against crop loss due to excessive rains. We have already disbursed Rs 302 crore among farmers in Amreli, so far. This should be of some help to farmers,” Kanani said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines