In the wake of losses due to whitefly attack last season, the Punjab agriculture department is facing the possibility of covering less acreage under cotton crop this year.
This may result in the department falling short of its target to cover five-lakh hectares under the cotton crop in Malwa region this kharif season. The agriculture department has put everything on stake to revive cotton economy but the lack of enthusiasm among farmers can be seen as sowing has already begun.
Staff of agriculture department has been finding it difficult to convince farmers to give another shot to cotton. The government has set a target to cover five-lakh hectares under the crop this year against 4.5-lakh hectares last year.
Whitefly attack had severely damaged almost two-thirds of the crop last year. The ‘spurious’ supply of seeds and pesticides added to the woes of cotton-growers.
Deputy director (cotton) Sukhdev Singh Sidhu said though it was obvious for farmers to be hesitant after last year’s losses, the department had gone all out to rebuild trust of farmers. “How successfully we managed to convince farmers can be assessed only once the sowing is over,” Sidhu said.
Meanwhile, demanding anonymity, a chief agriculture officer of the cotton belt said going by the sale of cotton seeds and slow sowing this season so far, it appeared hard to meet the targets for respective districts.
Bathinda chief agriculture officer Nachhatar Singh Aulakh said though 40% of cotton-sowing had been completed, the process is much slower than that of last year. “We are given a target of 1.65 lakh hectares against 1.45 lakh hectares last year. The field staff is visiting every village in the cotton belt, but farmers seem more interested in pulses, maize and paddy,” Aulakh said.
Govt perks fail to impress farmers
To popularise cotton-farming, the government had reduced the prices of BT cotton seeds from Rs 1,000 per packet (450g) to Rs 800. The government had even come up with a seven-month plan to address the concerns of cotton farmers to revive their economic condition. The plan is being looked after by additional chief secretary (development) Suresh Kumar and was enforced in March-end.
It envisages removal of whitefly-infested weeds across the cotton belt, holding technical training and awareness camps at the time of purchase of seeds and sowing, and interactive sessions with farmers so as to get details regarding the health of the crop. To boost the farmers, the government will grow 400 demonstration plants of cotton for every 25 acres across the belt.
Shingara Singh Mann, district president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), said that after last year’s losses, paddy is a viable and safe option for farmers. “Besides getting tubewell connections, the farmers are ready to spend money on diesel for sowing paddy instead of taking the risk of sowing cotton,” Mann said.