Weakening yields by whiteflies

Whitefly attack hits yields in North India

GMT 16:12 2015 Monday ,12 October

Sriyadithatextile - Whitefly attack hits yields in North India

Weakening yields by whiteflies
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A devastating whitefly attack across North India’s cotton belt have hit yields, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, but prices of the fibre are unlikely to slide with the region accounting for a small portion of the country’s total cotton output.

According to Agriculture Ministry data, cotton acreage in Punjab and Haryana stood at 4.5 lakh hectares (lh) and 5.81 lh, respectively, as of Friday. The coverage was the same as last year in the Punjab while it has slid nine per cent in Haryana.

The market has remained at about ₹33,000-34,000 per candy (of 356 kg) over the last few months, according to experts. Even as arrivals peak by mid-October, most do not expect pricesto drop significantly.

Not much impact

“Cotton production in northern India is not that large. With overall output expected to be the same as in 2014-15, it’s unlikely that the prices will slide to minimum price support levels,” said DK Nair, Secretary-General, Confederation of Indian Textile Industry.

Cotton farmers in the belt will be affected due to the pest attack which is estimated to have affected at least 60 per cent of the crop area. Damaged cotton may not be lifted by government agencies and will fetch a lower price at the market. The overall loss in the region is expected to be about 40-50 per cent of the crop which works out to almost 2 million bales (of 170 kg each).

“For the States’ farmers, it is a serious issue since damage cotton will fetch lower returns. But from a price viewpoint, cotton will continue to be at a level of ₹34,000-35,000 per candy. There’s free movement of cotton in India so this damage is not likely to have a wider impact,” added Nair.

Spurious seeds, chemicals

Nearly 99 per cent of all cottonseeds sown in the region are genetically-modified Bt varieties, among them many which have not received the recommendation of the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU).

While these varieties have been engineered to be resistant to bollworm attacks, experts said they did not protect against whitefly attacks which have to be controlled by pesticides.

“Varieties such as BCHH 6588 and 6488 have been used extensively but it’s not clear if these are resistant to whitefly attacks. The Bt varieties we recommend like NCS855, RCH650 etc are not either,” said a PAU official, requesting anonymity.

Earlier this week, a committee of experts formed by the two State Governments recommended that there was a need to break away from solely using Bt seeds. It said a mix of indigenous lines, hybrids and Bt varieties and could protect the crop more effectively.

Relief package

After a spate of suicides among cotton cultivators and State-wide demonstrations, the Punjab Government announced a relief package of ₹640 crore. The amount, however, is being dismissed as inadequate to make up for the losses incurred.

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