The Punjab agriculture department production target of 19.40-lakh cotton bales this year, up from 16.97-lakh bales of last year, may not be met. Over the past 15 years, poor techniques of sowing and cultivation have pushed the yield lower and lower in the state.
"Five rows of non-Bt-cotton seeds (20% of the total sown area) as a refuge belt around the Bt-cotton plot is the proper way of sowing Bt-cotton," said chief agriculture development officer Harpreet Singh. "Most farmers do it the wrong way."
Jawinder Singh Brar, agriculture development officer of Moga and winner of a state award, talked about the ideal process. "The trick is to protect the crop from bugs and insects. Any attack will be on the refuge belt first and farmers will know it's time for counter-measures. The government prescribes the insect resistance management strategy.
"No refuge belt along the Bt-cotton fields has nullified the advantage of making recommended non-BT-cotton seed available to farmers in a separate pack with each bag of BT-cotton seed," said Brar, "About 92% cotton growers haven't adopted the refuge-belt technique. The agriculture department is on a mission to make them aware."
"We recommend the refuge-belt system for sowing Bt-cotton," said agriculture director Mangal Singh. "The area under Bt-cotton will rise to 5.20-lakh hectares from 5.07 lakh hectares of last year. Across the state, farmers need 25-lakh packets of Bt-cotton, and the agriculture department has 35 lakh in stock."
The department will allot 2.15-lakh seed packets to co-operative societies, 1.50 lakh to Markfed, and 10,000 to Punseed for further distribution to farmers.