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Haryana's Cotton Yield Hits 20-Year Low: Pest-Resistant Bt Variety and Untimely Rain Blamed

The agriculture department of Haryana has set ambitious targets for cotton cultivation in the coming years, aiming to enhance yields and overcome challenges posed by pests and environmental factors.

Shivam Dwivedi
Haryana's Cotton Yield Hits 20-Year Low: Pest-Resistant Bt Variety and Untimely Rain Blamed (Photo Source: Pexels)
Haryana's Cotton Yield Hits 20-Year Low: Pest-Resistant Bt Variety and Untimely Rain Blamed (Photo Source: Pexels)

Haryana, a key cotton-producing state in India, has experienced its lowest cotton yield in over two decades during the 2022-23 season. This decline comes despite the widespread adoption of genetically modified Bt cotton, which was introduced in northern India in 2005-06 to enhance yield and resist pests.

Several factors, including attacks by pests like Pink Bollworm and Whitefly, as well as diseases like leaf curl and parawilt, have contributed to the sharp drop in yield. Cotton and paddy are the primary crops cultivated in Haryana during the kharif season, covering a significant portion of the state's cultivable land. Data from the textile commissioner's office reveals that the cotton yield in Haryana stands at 295.65 kg lint cotton (ginned cotton) per hectare, which is only 39 percent of the yield recorded in 2013-14 (761.19 kg per hectare).

These numbers indicate that Haryana's yield is significantly lower than the national average of 447.06 kg per hectare, as well as the average yield of the northern region (comprising Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan) at 439.16 kg per hectare.

The last time Haryana witnessed such a low yield was in 2002-03 when it recorded 286.61 kg per hectare. At that time, Haryana was growing American cotton, which was heavily impacted by the American Bollworm. The introduction of Bt cotton aimed to address the frequent pest attacks on the crop. However, experts caution against assuming that the Bt variety is completely immune to pest attacks or attributing the drop in yield to a single factor.

Dr. Rishi Kumar, head of the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) in the north region, emphasized that there are 1,326 types of pests that can attack the cotton crop. The current Bollguard-2 or BG-2 Bt cotton variety is engineered to guard against only four types of pests—American Bollworm, Pink Bollworm, Spotted Bollworm, and Tobacco Caterpillar. This leaves a significant number of pests that can potentially harm the crop. Dr. Kumar explained that cotton provides an ideal micro-environment for various insects and pests due to its abundance of green leaves, fertilizers, and moisture, which facilitate their growth.

Former CICR head Dr. Dilip Monga agreed that it would be inaccurate to blame a single factor for the low yield in 2022-23. Extreme hot weather conditions resulted in the burning of plants during the initial stage, leading to a decreased plant population that ultimately affected the yield. Additionally, excessive rainfall in September caused parawilt and, in some cases, crop damage due to waterlogging. Ram Partap Sihag, joint director (cotton) in Haryana's Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Department, attributed the poor yield to pest attacks and the parawilt condition caused by excessive rain in September.

Since the introduction of the BG-1 variety in 2005, Bt cotton crops have faced persistent pest attacks. The BG-2 variety replaced BG-1 in 2006-07, but challenges persisted. Mealybug attacks were witnessed in 2007-08, followed by Whitefly attacks in 2012 and again in 2014. Subsequent years saw attacks by Thrips, Pink Bollworm, and other pests. Pest attacks towards the end of a season are particularly damaging as some eggs remain in the field, leading to subsequent infestations in the following season.

Regarding the types of Bt cotton affected by attacks, Dr. Kumar stated that the CICR recommends 40 to 50 brands that comply with the benchmark set by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR). He noted that there were reports in local media of farmers using unapproved 3-G and 4-G hybrid seeds from Gujarat, but he couldn't provide further information on those specific seeds.

Dr. Monga highlighted that in 2022-23, the cotton crop faced both biotic stresses caused by living organisms and abiotic stresses resulting from other factors. Biotic stresses included attacks by Whitefly, Pink Bollworm, and cotton leaf curl virus, while erratic climatic conditions, initial crop burning due to high temperatures, and unpredictable rainfall in September contributed to the abiotic stresses. In addition to the yield decline, cotton prices also dropped significantly in 2022-23, ranging from Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 per quintal compared to the previous year's prices of up to Rs 14,000 per quintal. This price decrease has affected farmers' profitability, as the current prices fail to cover the expenses of seeds, pesticides, diesel, tractor rent, and labor.

Gurdial Mehta, a farmer from Panjuana village in Sirsa, expressed his concerns, stating that the average yield of raw cotton in his fields remained around 5 quintals. He explained that at the current price of Rs 7,000 per quintal, farmers can only expect profits if the yield surpasses 8 quintals per acre. Mehta mentioned that his fields had previously produced up to 12 quintals of cotton per acre.

Haryana typically cultivates cotton on 5.5 to 7 lakh hectares of land, which accounts for 4 to 5 percent of the total area under cotton cultivation in India. With a cultivable land area of 30.81 lakh hectares, Haryana aims to cultivate cotton on 7 lakh hectares in 2023-24, as set by the state agriculture department. However, as of the latest update, cotton has been sown on only 6.27 lakh hectares, according to the agriculture and farmers' welfare department's weekly statement issued on June 20. Joint director Sihag remains hopeful that the final cotton cultivation area will exceed 6 lakh hectares, surpassing the previous year's 5.75 lakh hectares.

In terms of production, Haryana contributed 10 lakh bales out of the total 343.47 lakh bales produced in the country during 2022-23, accounting for 3 percent. The northern zone, including Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan, produced 42.34 lakh bales, representing 23.6 percent of the total. Punjab recorded a yield of 314.06 kg per hectare, while Rajasthan achieved 578.63 kg per hectare, somewhat improving the region's average yield.

Gujarat, with the second-largest cotton cultivation area of 25.54 lakh hectares after Maharashtra, recorded the highest yield in the nation, with 632.14 kg of lint cotton per hectare during the same period.

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