Two years after a major pink bollworm infestation was reported in the state, early sowing of cotton in Vadodara has dropped from 7% in 2016 to 0.7% in the year 2019.
Farmers from Karjan, Dabhoi and Shinor talukas of Vadodara, which are part of Kanam cotton growing belt, rich in black soil most suitable for growing cotton, heavily relied on the pre-monsoon period for sowing. In Vadodara, around 64% of the cotton sowing area is irrigated while the rest is rainfed. This season, just 598 hectares of the land was pre-sown of the total 77,196 hectares of cotton cultivated land in the district as compared to 1,249 hectares pre-sown in 2018.
Farmers claim that one night of continuous rainfall makes it difficult for them to venture into the farm for the next 15 days due to the black soil texture, because of which they resorted to pre-monsoon sowing. “Land in Karjan and Shinor is purely black alluvial soil. If it rains continuously for one night, we cannot enter the farms for the next 15 days. Since there is enough irrigation water provided, we do not rely on the monsoon as such and sow cotton seeds prior to the monsoon months so that by the time monsoon arrives the cotton crop is at its flowering stage and we do not have to enter the fields anymore but directly enter for picking,” Mitesh Patel (38), a farmer from Kurai village of Karjan taluka, said.
However, despite not sowing their crop early this year, they have not faced any major issues due to delayed monsoons. Patel grows cotton on his nearly 20 bigha land that produces at least 180 to 200 quintals of cotton. In 2016, he claims, more than 50% of his crop was destroyed by the pink bollworm. “The rest of the produce barely fetched the market price due to poor quality yield,” he said. The white larva with a pink coloured banding chews through the lint and chews the seeds. While on the outside the larva is not visible, if not detected it tends to eat and destroy the cotton inside the buds.
Patel, along with other farmers from his village, this year resorted to sowing cotton in June after the district agriculture depart- ment intervened and warned farmers against early sowing. “The pink bollworm moths tend to breed in the pre-monsoon period with rising humidity. When the cotton is sown early, it acts as a host for eggs laid by the first generation moths. These eggs become larva within 4-5 days and develop into moth within a month. These moths will then lay eggs for the next generation. So avoiding early sowing of cotton helps to break this life cycle of the worm from the first generation itself and thus protects the crops,” said Nitin Vasava, Head of the District Agriculture department.
In 2017, all the cotton harvested on Rajnikant Patel’s two acres of land in Avakhal village in Shinor taluka was completely destroyed due to the infestation. “I have been farming for 30 years but it was for the first time that ‘gulabi’ (pink bollwo
rm) destroyed all my cotton. I had never experienced such an infestation before. In the immediate next season we used the recommended pesticides. The problem was partially solved through that but for even better results we opted out of pre-sowing of cotton,” Rajnikant said.
To fight the infestation, farmers also installed pheromone traps in their fields. Costing between Rs 15 to 25, the trap consists of Gossyplure, a pheromone, which attracts male moths of the pink bollworm. When set up in the field, it attracts the male moths which are trapped inside hence disrupting the mating, subsequently controlling the population of the worm. The insecticide recommended and used by the farmers is a combination of monocrotophos and acephate. One pump of the insecticide comprises of 4 ml of monocrotophos and 25 grams of acephate and a total of four pumps are minimum required for one bigha land.
For farmers growing the hybrid Bt Cotton organically, the pesticide is a combination of 10 natural ingredients, including neem, datura and custard apple leaves.
Ashwin Patel, a farmer from Shinor, does inter-cropping on his 40 bigha land and grows Bt Cotton on half the land. “We got to know about the infestation during a workshop. The paste extracted from neem, datura, betel, custard apple leaves and other ingredients is mixed with cow urine and kept for 40 days before we can spray it on the plants. One preparation of this naturally made pesticide lasts for six months. The infestation has substantially reduced and with a delayed sowing, we expect that it will further improve,” Ashwin said.
Highlighting other challenges, Bhavin Mehta, Deputy Director at the Agriculture department, Vadodara, said, “Another major challenge has also been farmers in Gujarat majorly sowing Bt Cotton which is more prone to the infestation of the pink bollworm. We have asked the farmers to cultivate a patch of non BT cotton as well to attract the infestation towards itself so that the Bt crops remain safe. But for them that patch goes unprofitable and hence they refrain.”
Bt genes which were introduced in 2002, were initially fatal against a host of worms, including the pink bollworm, but eventually developed resistance to the Bt toxins from around 2014.
Rajnikant started growing Bt Cotton in his farm since it was introduced and refuses to switch back to regular cotton. “Bt gives better yield than regular cotton even if some portion of it is dest-royed. My average income has increased over three times after I switched to Bt Cotton. The harvest is responding to the pesticides and with delay in sowing, the infestation has decreased,” he said.