After wasting energy on promoting direct sowing of basmati rice (DSR) in the Malwa region with a view to save groundwater during the last year without much success, the Punjab agriculture department has now been finding itself far behind in realising the target of 7-lakh hectare area under cotton in the state during the current season. Cotton is the strongest alternative to paddy in the region; however, hardly any measure has been taken in the last one decade to promote the cultivation of the white gold in a big way other than introducing BT cotton seeds in 2005.
According to Major Singh, assistant statistical officer with the department, initial estimates suggest that there had been a nominal increase in the area under cotton during the current season. "The area under cotton has increased from 4.46 lakh hectare in 2013-14 to 4.50 lakh hectare in 2014-15," said Major Singh.
These figures are discouraging in comparison to the annual target of increase of 50,000 hectare in the area under cotton under the crop diversification programme. The area under cotton in the state was 5.73-lakh hectare in 2006-07, the highest since the launch of BT cotton in 2005.
The soil in the region is more suitable for cotton. However, the department enrolled many farmers for direct sowing of basmati by offering around `4,000 per acre subsidy during the last year.
Taking a U-turn, this year, the department persuaded farmers not to sow basmati as it feared decline in the prices of basmati in the coming season as several farmers have taken to the cultivation of paddy. Now basmati is also out of the list of diversification crops.
Sowing of basmati and paddy is on, whereas sowing of cotton is already over.
There has been 65% hike in the minimum support price of (MSP) of paddy against 35% in the MSP of cotton in the last one decade. Cotton prices largely depend on the market situation whereas paddy prices are fully controlled by the government.
There has been no subsidy on the cotton seed and it makes for the major input cost. Also, there is no insurance for the crop which is susceptible to climatic conditions and farmers always have the risk of double sowing in case their first attempt is washed away by heavy storm or rain, which are normal in this season.
There was a big decline in the use of pesticides to control weeds in the initial years of the launch of BT cotton in Punjab. However, the number of sprays has increased gradually in the recent years. Also, It is not surprising that Monsanto has been also lobbying for the launch of the next generation of the BT cotton, which controls the attack of weeds.