Four years after a whitefly attack wiped out two-thirds of Punjab’s cotton crop in 2015, causing damage worth crores, the state is not only expecting all-time high productivity of the crop but has also seen a 40 percent dip in pesticide use this year.
Raw cotton (kapas) is a combination of cotton seed and lint. Cotton seed is mainly used for making cattle feed. While harvesting of the crop is almost complete, the exact amount of cotton harvested will only be clear in February when all of the crop has entered the markets.
“I have grown cotton on two acres and had done only two sprays (pesticide) as there was no pest attack. Earlier I used to do 6-7 sprays,” said Jagdev Singh Mula Singhwala of Mansa district.
“We have done just two sprays of pesticides this season against the usual 5-7 sprays to control the pest attack. This season only one sucking pest, which sucks the leaves of the plant, could be seen on the crop. For that only two sprays were done including one as a precautionary,” said Gurditta Singh, chief agriculture officer, Bathinda, and a cotton expert. Bathinda has the highest area under cotton crop — 35% of the total crop area in Punjab, which is nearly 4 lakh hectare.
The reason for less use of pesticides — which are harmful both to humans and the environment — was mainly because of better pest management techniques, officials said. Of the three rounds of picking of the cotton crop, the last one is ongoing and is slated to end in a week.
Gurditta Singh said that this season, their field staff has managed the crop very well. “We have organised camps across the cotton belt were farmers were taught about purchasing the right types of seed, and checking the crop regularly so that any pests spotted at an early stage can be managed using natural methods rather than pesticides.
Cotton experts said that whiteflies, mealybugs and sucking pests appeared on the crop every season but this season only the sucking pest was seen on the crop.
Punjab Agriculture Department Director Dr Sutantra Airy told The Indian Express that according to details collected by the department from across the cotton belt — which includes Bathinda (1.40 lakh hectares), Muktsar (71,000 hectares), Fazilka (92,000 hectares) and Mansa (73,000 hectares) districts — use of pesticide has gone down by 40 per cent this season. He said this has also help farmers save a lot of money, since they would end up spending around Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 per acre on pesticide spray. They spent around Rs 1000 per acre this season. Data sourced from the Punjab Mandi Board (PMB) this year says that 13.26 lakh quintals kapas and 2.65 lakh bales of lint (one bale is 170 kg) have already arrived in markets, which is around 7 per cent more than last year till the same date.
The current rate of cotton in the market is between Rs 4,900 to Rs 5,400 per quintal, depending upon the moisture level and quality of cotton. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Kapas is Rs 5,450 per quintal. Authorities said that after the second picking of the crop, farmers hold back some of the cotton so as to take it to mandis when the prices increase.
“Now they will be bringing most of the held back crop in January when the rates may go up further. During Lohari festival, which falls in January, the rates always go up,” said senior entomologist Vijay Kumar, Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana.
He further said, “though the final productivity will come when the entire crop reaches the market, going by the current results, we are hoping to get all time high productivity this year as it was 750 Kg lint per hectares in 2017 per hectare and 778 kg lint in 2018. Till date 10-12 quintals kapas is being harvested per acre against around 8 quintals last year.
During the 2015 whitefly attack, productivity had gone down to 197 kg lint per hectares.
Punjab has grown all PAU recommended cotton seeds this time. Cotton is always procured by private players because the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) enters the market only when the rate goes down the proposed MSP.