Two years after the white fly pest attack on cotton crop in Punjab, area under cotton cultivation in the state has increased drastically this year to 3.82 lakh hectares, against just 2.85 lakh hectares in 2016, according to agriculture department sources. In 2015, when white fly attack took place on cotton crop, the area under its cultivation was 3.35 lakh hectares. The following year, wary farmers sowed less of cotton but now they seem to have overcome their fear.
However, out of 3.82 lakh hectares under cotton cultivation this year, sowing was done late in over a lakh hectares, which is a cause of concern. The ideal time for sowing is till May 15, but this year it continued till June 15 because less water was released from canals and electricity supply given to tubewells was not more than 3 hours in a day.
“We don’t advise farmers to do late sowing as temperature rises and crop becomes prone to white fly attack. Despite our instructions, late sowing happened on over one lakh hectares under cotton and hence we are taking extra care. Our over 500 scouts in various villages are keenly observing the crop. They will update us through a special mobile app for white fly attack in case they find any problem,” said Sukhdev Singh, deputy director (cotton) at state’s agriculture department.
Singh, however, said a few showers in June had acted as a relief as the initial growth of white fly, which was about 0.4% in a few areas, had been washed away.
After the white fly attack in the cotton belt of Punjab in 2015, farmers had to be compensated at the rate of Rs 8,000 per acre, which cost the state exchequer around Rs 600 crore. Most farmers had grown BT cotton at the time, which suffered extensive damage. Patches having desi cotton variety survived the pest attack.
In 2016, PAU as well as agriculture department had asked farmers to grow desi varieties of cotton, but seeds were not available in the market. Hence, only 7,000 hectares saw cultivation of desi cotton.
This year too, most of the farmers have chosen to sow BT cotton and the area under desi cotton cultivation has fallen to 5,000 hectares.
Shingara Singh, a farmer from Bathinda, said, “BT varieties give us more income of Rs 45,000/acre against Rs 35,000/ acre in the case of desi variety. So we have to grow BT varieties despite the risk factor.”
Sukdev Singh, the deputy director (cotton), agreed that BT variety gave higher yield and income for farmers.
Moreover, desi varieties are also vulnerable to bollworm attack, as BT variety is to white fly attack.
Jatinder Singh, secretary of Indian Cotton Association, said, “Our association has adopted 10 villages in Fazilka and we are guiding farmers in taking care of their crops to prevent damage from pests.” “Farmers had no choice but to do late sowing as they did not get proper supply of water from canals while tubewell water supply was also minimal.”
Jasbir Singh, director at the state’s agriculture department, said, “Our teams are taking extra caution and are visiting cotton fields to educate farmers about white fly pest. We are also organising inter-state meetings of agriculture departments to share information on this subject.”