Cotton season in Punjab is off to a shaky start, with low demand for BT cotton seeds. The demand has dropped by 20-30 percent less than last year due to factors including delay in supply of canal water and also due to farmers shifting to other crops, especially paddy and maize, that are being perceived as giving higher returns.
The sowing of cotton in the state is less than last year, according to cotton seeds distributors, even though seed prices have come down by about Rs 60 per packet (450 gm) to about Rs 740. The government had revised BT cotton seed prices in March this year.
Largely BT cotton, was grown over 122 lakh hectares in India in 2017-18. In recent years, pest infestation, high input costs and drop in earnings in cotton have hit farmers hard. Use of spurious seeds and unscientific use of pesticides and insecticides have also been the reasons for crop failures in the state.
Experts said if sowing doesn’t pick up pace it could affect the revival of cotton in Punjab, where acreage under the cash crop had jumped by about half in 2017-18.
This year, the Punjab government is aiming to bring 4 lakh hectares under cotton. “Higher income in basmati last year is influencing farmers to grow less cotton,” said Jasbir Singh Bains, director of agriculture for Punjab to the Economic Times.
Cotton, a crucial crop helping in moving farmers away from water-guzzling paddy, had regained lost ground in Punjab. As per government data, it covered 3.82 lakh hectares in 2017-18 compared with 2.56 lakh hectares in 2016-17. However, a serious whitefly infestation is making farmers rethink their plans.
Sowing of cotton in Punjab begins at least a month ahead of sowing in the other states. According to the seed companies, the shift in cropping pattern in the northern state is unlikely to be replicated in the other major cotton-growing states including Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.