Dissecting the whitefly menace: An HT explainer on the whitefly epidemic

  • Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Oct 09, 2015 22:55 IST
Cotton crop all over Punjab and Haryana has been devastated by the whitefly menace. (HT Photo)

What’s whitefly?

A white bug, it’s a seasonal pest that attacks kharif crops, including cotton, between June-July. Widely prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical areas, including northern India.

Why it’s so lethal to cotton crop?

It sucks the sap from the underside of leaves of the cotton plant. Its excretions fall on the plant and form a soot-like layer which hinders photosynthesis. This leads to stunted growth of the plant and cotton boll formation. It also spreads the leaf curl virus. On an average, a severe whitefly attack can cause 40-40% loss in yield.

How does the pest spread?

High temperature and scanty rains – witnessed this season – are conducive to rapid multiplication of whitefly. A female lays up to 120 eggs and its life cycle is completed in less than two weeks. If unchecked at an early stage, it rapidly turns into an uncontrollable epidemic.

How difficult is it to fight the pest?

As whitefly proliferates underneath the leaves, even multiple insecticide sprays fail to curb the pest and its build-up continues. Whitefly also has the tendency to become pesticide-resistant. In Punjab, the menace has been compounded by large-scale prevalence of spurious pesticides.

What can be done to protect cotton against whitefly?

Timely sowing in early June allows the plant to gain enough strength to fight the pest attack. Spray of recommended pesticides in early stage of the whitefly larva also helps against the epidemic.

How much damage has whitefly done in Punjab and Haryana?

Out of area of 4.65 lakh hectares on which cotton was grown in Punjab, 1.36 lakh have suffered severe damage. In Haryana, 3.06 lakh hectares (out of 5.83 lakh) have suffered moderate to severe damage. In both states, the average yield loss has been pegged at 40%.

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