Cotton: Poor farm practices led to bollworm attack in Punjab, say experts
Even as the Punjab government, following the pink bollworm attack, has ordered a probe to find whether farmers were supplied spurious BT cotton seeds, agriculture experts attribute the crop infestation in the state’s Malwa region to poor farm practices.
“There is not much merit in claims on seed quality,” said Vijay Kumar, principal entomologist at Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, while pointing to varied incidence of infestation in different districts.
“Even as area affected by pink bollworm (PBW) In Bathinda district, where the infestation was first reported on a small patch in 2018, has been increasing over the years and extended to the adjoining areas of Mansa district as well, field surveillance has found that pest severity is limited to three blocks: Bathinda, Sangat and Talwandi,” said Kumar.
Meanwhile, Fazilka has not reported any case, and in Muktsar it was found at only three to four spots, said Kumar, who has been engaged in containing bollworm attacks for the past five years.
“Bollgard 2 (BG-2), a second-generation insecticidal technology for cotton, has now grown resistant to PBW. But chemical treatment is highly effective to control it,” he said.
According to experts, other major cotton-growing states, such as Karnataka and Maharashtra, have been reporting PBW over large areas since 2015. It entered Punjab and Haryana more recently with the unchecked transportation of cotton from other states by the oil extracting mills and ginning units.
‘Cotton growers did not follow instructions’
In June this year, the state agriculture department had cautioned about infestation and advised farmers to use low-cost pheromone traps in fields to contain pest attacks. A capsule in the trap lures male pests, and regular monitoring indicates pest population in the fields through the trapped pests.
SK Verma, head of Sirsa-based Central Institute for Cotton Research, said field studies indicate that farmers did not follow the instructions that resulted in wide infestation in Punjab and Haryana.
“Farmers must ensure that cotton residue, which is commonly used as firewood, is not kept in fields. This moth can survive in any climatic condition and lives only on cotton plants or its residue. Between sowing in April-May till harvesting in November, three generations of bollworm took birth at a huge rate,” he said.
Verma said it is a myth that infestation can damage crops in the entire field. In case of pest attack, only those flowers or boll of a plant get affected that have its larvae, he said, adding that PBW can be controlled by ensuring that no crop waste is kept in or around fields.
“Government should adopt an organised approach to curb bollworm with the same spirit that was adopted to control devastating whitefly infestation in Punjab in 2015,” said Verma.
This year, 3.3 lakh hectare area is under cotton cultivation, an increase of 17% from the 2020-21 Kharif season.
Rakesh Rathi, director, Indian Cotton Association Limited, said in spite of the pest attack, the industry is hopeful of Punjab reaching last year’s production of 50 lakh quintals.
“Our assessment suggests a bumper crop this time and a good yield may overcome the loss incurred by farmers due to bollworm infestation,” he said.