Amid hue and cry over crop diversification, area under the Bt cotton crop has witnessed a stagnation. With the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) not being able to do much to increase the area under crop, it has started researching on better variety of guar crop with little hope to give an alternative to the wheat-paddy cycle.
Since Bt cotton was introduced in 2005 in Punjab, area under cotton has not witnessed any dramatic increase even as some affects were seen during recent years in cotton market.
According to the data collected by the Punjab agriculture department, farmers in the cotton belt have sowed cotton on around 5.5 lakh hectare this year against nearly 5.35 lakh hectare during the last season.
Best performance of Bt cotton crop was witnessed in 2006-07 when 5.73 lakh hectare area was under the crop and the worst performance was in 2010-11 when only 4.7 lakh hectare was under it.
With 4.92 lakh hectare area under cotton in 2010-11, the prices of white gold had touched to the R8,000 per quintal. It prompted farmers to increase the area to 5.55 lakh hectare under cotton during 2011-12. However, the area again decreased to 5.35 lakh hectare in 2012-13.
As Bt cotton seed is owned by an private entity, the PAU is not in a position to conduct further research on it. The university's only hope for research in field of crop diversification in the Malwa region is on guar.
Responding to the sudden hike in the guar crop prices last year, PAU has given ad-hoc recommendation to the HG-365 variety of guar, which is discovered by Haryana.
"We have given ad-hoc recommendation to HG-365 for sowing in Punjab. Field trials for HG-365 are under going on and if everything remains normal, this variety will be given green signal for sowing in Punjab," said Jaspal Gill, director, PAU regional centre at Bathinda.
Apart from that the PAU has also brought germplasm of the guar crop from the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), regional centre at Jodhpur, Rajsthan, to develop the varieties for sowing in Punjab.
"We want to reduce the time taken by guar crop to give fruit so that it does not lead to late sowing of wheat crop," said Gill.
Guar crop came to limelight last year when a Rajasthan-based private company signed agreements with farmers in Mansa and Barnala to ensure income R40,000 per acre for sowing guar crop.
"We are expecting 3,500 to 4,000 hectare area under the guar crop this year in Mansa district. Guar is more successful in less fertile land. Mansa is comparatively well suited for the guar crop than the neighbouriong districts," said Paramjit Singh, district agricultural officer.
Farmer Mall Singh Wala in Mansa district said, "Private players have assured R5,000 per quintal for guar crop. The agriculture department has been looking for help from private companies to promote guar and its own efforts are negligible."