Bathinda For the first time in six years, Punjab’s area under cotton cultivation this kharif season has crossed the 3 lakh hectare mark. This is an increase of 17% over 2020, when cotton was sown on 2.5 lakh hectare.

The state, however, is still 41% short of the golden phase in 2011-12 when the area under the traditional cash crop was 5.2 lakh hectare. In 2015, cotton was sown on 3.25 lakh hectares in southern districts. After a devastating period of the worst whitefly attack on cotton that year, farmers turned away from sowing the crop. Before 2014, over 4 lakh hectare was under cotton.

State agriculture department’s data says that between 2016-20, area under cotton fluctuated between 2.5 lakh hectare in 2019 and 2.9 lakh hectare in 2017.

This year Fazilka tops with nearly 96,000 hectare under the crop, its highest since 2015. Bathinda has also progressed to 95,000 hectare from 80,000 hectare in 2020. Mansa (64,000) and Muktsar (40,000) follow.

Cotton is a major kharif crop for the semi-arid region of Punjab. It is sown in seven districts, but cotton is an economic lifeline for farmers for four districts of Fazilka, Bathinda, Mansa and Muktsar.

In 11 years, area under

crop has dipped 40%

Since 2011, Punjab’s cotton area has shrunk drastically from 5.2 lakh hectare. Data shows that over the past decade, all four main cotton-growing districts reduced area under traditional cotton crop in preference of water-guzzling paddy.

Cotton-growers and farm experts blame the whitefly attack in 2015 and strengthened irrigation facilities for the shift.

Muktsar has seen a drop of whooping 58% in cotton area ovetr the past decade. In 2011, cotton was cultivated on 98,000 hectare and this time only 40,000 hectare is under the crop.

In 2011, Bathinda farmers had sown white gold on 1.5 lakh hectare and, today, 11 years later it has fallen 38%. Fazilka’s area has also reduced from 1.21 lakh hectare to 95,000 hectares. Mansa has seen a downward trend to see the crop under 64,000-hectare.

Paramjit Singh, director, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) regional research station, Bathinda, said, “Infestation of deadly whitefly in 2015 had a severe impact on cotton cultivation. Better pricing in the last two seasons is gaining the confidence of cotton growers.”

“PAU, in coordination with state agriculture department and other central institutes, evolved organised pest management. Farmers started expressing interest in paddy cultivation as irrigation facilities improved in southern Punjab and assured returns due to government purchase of paddy. New farming preference not only impacted overexploitation of groundwater, but poor quality water is adversely affecting subsoil,” said the cotton expert.

A progressive farmer Jagtar Singh Brar from Bathinda’s Mehma Sarja said weed management was the leading cause of farmers shunning cotton.

“Non-availability of labour for the de-weeding process is a hurdle as unlike paddy, cotton farming is more labour-intensive. Newly developed herbicide-tolerant Bt (HTBt) cotton, that is still not approved in India, may become a major game-changer,” he said.

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