Cotton season in Punjab is off to a sluggish start, with seed companies reporting low demand for BT cotton seeds, the variety that accounts for most of the cotton grown in the country. Seed companies say farmers are shifting to other crops, especially paddy and maize, in which they see higher returns.
Accordingly, cotton acreage in the state this kharif season is expected to drop by 15-20% despite an 8% discount in price of seeds this year. 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.
“Demand for cotton seeds so far is 20-30% less than last year due to factors including delay in supply of canal water and higher income in paddy in the last season,” a Fazilka-based distributor of Rasi Seeds said.
Cotton, 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 are reasons for crop failures," said an executive of a cotton seed company.
The sowing of cotton in the state is less than last year, according to cotton seeds distributors, although 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.
Some traders said farmers have moved away from cotton because of lower-than-expected earnings from the crop in the previous season. “Cotton price had increased to Rs 5,000-6,000 per quintal in the previous season, while they have remained below Rs 4,500 in 2017-18,” said Jaspal Singh, an Abohar-based cotton trader.
The delay in supply of canal water is another reason for low sowing in some districts, especially Mansa. “Late cotton crop is highly prone to pest attack, including whitefly, that has hit crop hard in recent years,” an official of Punjab agriculture department said.
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 SinghBains, director of agriculture for Punjab.
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. Executives of some seed companies said 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.