The Maharashtra government has decided to promote short duration varieties of Bt cotton from the next cotton year following the severe pink bollworm attack on the crop this season.
According to Maharashtra agriculture commissioner Sachindra Pratap Singh, the state government has decided to stop renewal of licences for the long duration varieties and has notified seed companies to provide a list of the short-term, medium-term and long-term varieties of cotton. The Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) in Nagpur has recommended short duration varieties of cotton and there are several such varieties of Bt cotton available in the market, he said.
“The long duration varieties are barely 20-30% of the total production. However these end up causing losses to farmers,” Singh pointed out. For the past three months, the government has been attempting to educate farmers that they should not go in for extended pickings beyond March. Singh, however, admitted that this is a difficult task since poor farmer does not realise the relevance of not opting for extended pickings. As a result, the pink bollworm infestation has reached the seed itself, he pointed out.
According to him, cotton in the northern and other states is cultivated in 100% irrigated areas and therefore farmers in these regions go in for rabi crops. In contrast, in Maharashtra cotton is cultivated in dry land areas and therefore farmers have a single crop and they go in for extended pickings of cotton beyond March and April and the cycle is not being broken, Singh said.
Keshav Kranthi, former director of CICR who had extensively worked on this issue, had said that the simplest and most potent way to overcome the problem is to take up timely sowing and cultivate early maturing short-duration varieties of about 150 days duration. Besides, other strategies such as avoidance of excess urea and insecticides, use of light traps, pheromone traps, bio-pesticides, biological control etc are also used. CICR has been attempting to persuade farmers to go in for very high density planting of early-maturing, short-duration varieties at the rate of 44,000 plants per acre for Vidarbha, Marathwada and Telangana which, it says, will help the crop escape bollworm infestation altogether and leave more on the table for farmers. Farmers do not initiate ant control measures against any bollworms on Bt-cotton.
Senior officials at CICR said that they have been issuing advisories to farmers to avoid long-duration varieties/hybrids in rain-fed farms, especially in the absence of any form of protective irrigation. Short-duration varieties get adequate soil moisture during the critical flowering and fruiting phase and escape bollworm attacks during squaring-flowering stage but farmers sometimes tend to continue since cotton is still available for picking.