Diversification has been a burning issue in Punjab to save the alarmingly declining sub-soil water, but it seems not much is being done towards this. Cotton can be promoted in the cotton belt, but the government is not providing subsidised seeds for it.
"The BT 2 (double BT) cotton seeds cost around Rs. 900 to 1,000 for a 450-gm pouch and about two pouches are required for sowing cotton on one acre. This way a cotton-grower has to spend about Rs. 1,800 to 2,000 per acre on BT seeds alone," says Sukhjinder Singh, a farmer from Niamiwala village.
"If BT cotton seeds are provided on highly subsided rates, the area under cotton can be doubled in the region. Last year, I had sown cotton on five acres but it could not grow on three acres due to rain as following rain the upper layer hardens after drying up and most of the sprouts cannot come out of the ground. I decided not to spend about Rs. 6,000 on seeds alone for the second time and opted for basmati," he adds.
The water for irrigation for early sowing of cotton is also a problem. The power supply is also not provided for eight hours before June 10, when the paddy transplantation begins. "This year, I have sown cotton only on two acres, but had to run a tubewell on a diesel engine to irrigate the fields," Sukhjinder says. "Those who want to sow cotton or have to do this owing to some problems should be helped to bring more area under it," he adds.
Jaswinder Singh, a farmer from Ghania village, says, "All facilities are given for growing paddy. The government tries to provide free eight-hour power supply for paddy. Regular canal water is also ensured after June 10, but nothing is done to promote cotton. The rates for cotton sometimes go up to Rs. 7,000 and sometimes fall as low as Rs. 4,000. There are no subsidised seeds; almost nothing to promote cotton."
Arvinderpal, a farmer from Wander Jatana village, says, "Punjab Agricultural University recommends that for a good yield of cotton, the sowing must be completed before May 15, but at least the water and power supply should be made available. The power supply is only for three to four hours before the paddy transplantation and the canal water was also released a week earlier. But if these things are made available earlier, the sowing of cotton can be done earlier."
Arvinderpal, who sows cotton on about five acres, says, "Besides, seeds should be distributed on highly subsidized rates to attract more farmers. Something also needs to be done to compensate farmers who have to sell the produce below average prices because all purchase of cotton is made by private traders and rates depend on the international market and the area under cotton."
"Till Friday, we had received no seeds to be distributed on subsidized rates," said Kaur Singh Dhillon, chief agriculture officer, Faridkot, who has since been transferred.
Agriculture director Mangal Singh Sandhu was not available for comment.
As most of the farmers who opt for cotton want to sow BT cotton they have to buy the seeds from the open market.