Cotton growers in south Punjab are a worried lot these days as pink bollworm infestation has been reported in more areas ahead of the main harvesting period of the kharif crop starting next week.

According to the state agriculture department, all 14 blocks of Bathinda and Mansa, the two biggest cotton-producing districts of Punjab, have reported the pest attack. A total of 3.25 lakh hectares is under cotton cultivation in Punjab. Nearly 5% of the area under the crop in Bathinda (96,000 hectares) and Mansa (65,000 hectares) is under the pest attack.

Agriculture officials said presently there is no serious threat to cotton production. The maiden picking of the three-picking cycle of cotton is expected to begin after September 15 whereas farmers have started harvesting in the early-sown fields.

BT cotton is resistant to American bollworm, but experts say it is susceptible to the pink bollworm as has been seen in Maharashtra, Gujarat and now in Punjab for the second consecutive year.

Sources said last year, traces of pink bollworm were found in few pockets of 20 villages in Bathinda and Mansa but in the last few weeks, the pest’s presence is felt in the larger area of the cotton belt.

Experts and the agriculture department blame oil mills, cotton ginning units and a section of villagers for ignoring the laid-down protocol to avoid the pest.

Bathinda chief agriculture officer Manjit Singh said an intense surveillance was started at the village level from Monday.

“Our teams have started holding awareness and field inspection camps and the task in both districts would be completed by Saturday. At present, the economic threshold level of the pest is within permissible limits,” said Singh, who also is in charge of Mansa.

Economic threshold level is pest density at which control measures should be applied to prevent increasing pest population.

Agriculture development officer Ajaypal Brar said the permissible limit is five adults per cotton ball or flower and the initial inputs suggest in the most area the infestation is not critical.

“The next 15-20 days are crucial to containing the infestation. Farmers have been advised for regular inspection of fields and go for spray only if the pest infestation is beyond ETL,” said Brar.

Sharanjit Singh, a progressive farmer from Mansa’s Mann Khera village, said cotton growers were hoping for a remunerative season due to high prices being offered by traders but the pest attack in the region is a cause of concern.

“Farmers should have completely removed cotton straw, which is used as firewood or consumed to energise brick kilns completely from the fields. Now, the use of additional sprays of pesticides means an avoidable increase in the cost of production,” he added.

Source: 07 September, 2021, Hindustan Times