AFTER PLANTING cotton on one-a-half acres, Malkiat Singh of Khiyala Kalan in Mansa has ploughed the land again to prepare it for a different crop fearing whitefly attack on the cotton plant. The farmer says he decided against spending money on another round of spraying pesticide. Malkiat had suffered losses due to a massive whitefly attack in 2015, too. “He had a bad experience two years back and hence he decided to plough the fields. Moreover, he had no money to buy pesticides,” said Gora Singh Bhainibaga, a farmer of the same Khiyala Kalan village.
On Sunday evening, 30-year-old Harpreet Singh of Rangriyal village in Mansa district committed suicide after consuming spray. His brother Gurpreet Singh told The Indian Express that due to the white fly attack on their 3 acres of land, Harpreet was under stress all the time. As the family had no money to buy pesticides, a distressed Harpreet committed suicide on Sunday.
Though this is the first case in Mansa district, nearly seven acres of cotton crop were ploughed in Bathinda district last week. This included 1.5 acres at Nathana village, three acres at Kalyan Sukha village and 2.5 acres at Khokar village. All these crops had come under severe white fly attack, forcing farmers to plough their fields in panic. “No one wants to take any chance after suffering losses in 2015,” said Shingaara Singh Maan, president of the Bathinda unit of Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan).
Ram Singh Bhainibaga, president of BKU (Ugrahan) Mansa unit, said, “Now, when pesticides have already been purchased by farmers, their samples have been taken which have failed tests as well. Sprays had not worked in 2015 as well.”
State Agriculture Director Dr Jasbir Singh confirmed that 26 of the 36 samples taken from various companies have failed tests and one company has been blacklisted as well. “Nearly 100 samples are still in waiting as their test reports are yet to come. The company, which has been blacklisted, had not sold much of the stock. But still, we have taken precautionary measures and have stopped its sale. However, there is no need to panic as the situation is under control. Only a few farmers have ploughed their fields and for them, reason could have been something else rather than white fly alone. The situation is under control now. No doubt we have to keep a constant vigil because hot and humid weather is conducive to white fly pest,” said the director.
This year, the area under cotton cultivation is a record 3.86 lakh hectare compared to 2.86 lakh hectare in 2016 and 3.36 lakh hectare in 2015. Bt cotton had been the popular choice of farmers as per the availability of seeds in the market and moreover, it gives more income. Bt varieties are also vulnerable to white fly attack compared to desi cotton varieties. However, the area under desi cotton is only 5,000 hectares.
The authorities, meanwhile, are focusing more on awareness camps to control pest attacks. Nearly 1,000 villages are being covered by this awareness campaign, said Dr Sukhdev Singh, deputy director, cotton, Punjab.
Dr BS Dhillon, vice-chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, said, “Although there are problems, we hope to get a bumper cotton crop this year.”