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Punjab’s crop diversification plan faces stiff challenge

Seeds for cotton and maize are to be bought from Southern states; increase in area under the two crops means reduction in area under water-guzzler paddy; farmers are not too optimistic
Hindustan Tims, Chandigarh | By Gurpreet Singh Nibber
PUBLISHED ON APR 09, 2020 10:41 PM IST

Chandigarh Even as Punjab has planned wheat harvesting in phases due to covid-19, the state’s plans to ramp up diversification of crops by replacing the water-guzzling paddy with water conserving cotton and maize faces challenges. These are timely arrangement of seeds and to ensure farmers can sow these crops within the optimum time frame. Seeds for these crops are to be bought and transported from southern states.

For cotton, sowing begins immediately after wheat harvest, expected to be from April 20 to May 31. Maize is sown in June. Paddy comes later and the state allows its transplantation from June 20. Increase in area under the two crops means fall in area under traditional paddy crop.

Sources in the state agriculture department said arrangement and distribution of seeds to farmers during lockdown is a tough task. “If we miss sowing cotton, there’s no option but to shift to paddy,” said Satwinder Singh, a Mansa farmer.

Baldev Singh, a farmer form Bajak village in Bathinda district, told HT that the next few days were critical for cotton growers because all arrangements such as seeds, fertilisers and pesticides needed to be made in advance. “I am not blaming the government, but as of now things seem out of control,” he said, adding the earlier the cotton is sown, the better it was.

Cotton is grown in Bathinda, Mansa, Faridkot, Muktsar, Abohar and Fazilka districts. Maize is grown in Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Nawanshahr, Ropar and Amritsar.

“For diversification, the area under cotton is to be increased to 5 lakh hectare this year (from last season’s 3.9 lakh hectare); maize to 3.25 lakh hectare (from last season’s 1.6 lakh hectare). We are focusing our work on ensuring that there is no shortage of seeds,” says state agriculture secretary, Kahan Singh Pannu.

For the area planned to be cultivated this year, 27 lakh packets of cotton seeds (which come in 200 grams packing) and 3.2 lakh kilogram maize seed is needed. “We are in touch with companies in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat that supply BT seeds for cotton and companies in Tamil Nadu and down south for maize seeds,” said Pannu, adding that the government gives 50% subsidy on seeds.

Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) vice-chancellor BS Dhillon said the varsity advocated that cotton sowing should begin from April 1, but crop sown till April 15 was also within the ideal time frame. “Further delay in sowing leads to challenges for farmers,” he said. “I am sure maize sowing would be easy, because, hopefully, by then the covid-19 situation would ease out,” he added.

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