After the extensive crop damage caused by the whitefly pest attack last year, cotton farmers in Haryana and Punjab have brought down the area under cotton this season. They are likely to shift to paddy and pulses.
In Haryana, farmers have planted cotton on 4.76 lakh hectares so far, against nearly 5 lakh hectares during the same period last year. In Punjab, the area under cotton is 2.57 lakh hectares, against over 3 lakh hectares last year.
“The drop in area under cotton was expected this season as farmers suffered losses last year because of the whitefly attack,” Jasbir Singh Bains, Director, Punjab Agriculture Department, told The Hindu.
In these two States, the whitefly pest damaged the Bt cotton varieties last year, bringing the production down by nearly 40 per cent. Bt cotton accounted for over 98 per cent to the total cotton sown last year; the rest were the indigenous varieties.
Mr. Bains attributed the reduction in area under cotton in Punjab to the repairs to canal links and branches (used for irrigation).
“Farmers will now sow paddy instead as the cotton-sowing period is almost over. The government has allocated new tube well connections, so we have asked cotton-growers to shift to paddy,” Mr. Bains said.
Cotton is usually planted from the middle of April to late May in most parts of Punjab and Haryana.
In Punjab, the whitefly epidemic during Kharif 2015 damaged over 75 per cent of the crop and led to widespread protest. The crop loss was also thought to be the major reason for the suicide of over 12 farmers in the cotton belt, especially in Abohar, Fazileka, Bathinda and Muktsar districts. The total area under cotton in the State last year was 4.50 lakh hectares. The government later announced a Rs.644-crore compensation package.
In Haryana too, farmers suffered huge losses, and the government announced a Rs. 967-crore compensation package.
“Cotton acreage this season has gone down, and the whitefly attack is the major reason… Farmers are opting for pulses and paddy,” said Babu Lal, Deputy Director of the Haryana Agriculture Department in Sirsa.