This season, the increasing incidence of crop damage by pink bollworm in the early stages of cotton planting has evoked concern among farmers in Maharahstra. Even as the state government administration has asked farmers to remain vigilant on the pest infestation, industry people have raised concerns if farmers could afford the solutions required. Senior scientists at the Central Institute of Cotton Research ( CICR), Nagpur said that the institute had been issuing advisories to farmers right from the start of the season. There are cases where farmers do not follow the stipulated guidelines resulting in the pest attack. This season, there has been a concern of the appearance of pink bollworm in parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat and some parts of Telangana, senior scientists at the Institute said. The government should take steps to ensure that the farmers follow given guidelines, MS Ladhaniya, director, CICR said. According to officials, around 5-10% of farmers start sowing cotton in April-May period while 90% of the farmers in the state start planting after the third week of June, which means the flowering stage occurs in September. What usually happens is farmers keep the crop standing in fields for a long time and continue picking till February -March. Pink bollworm is a winter pest. It causes damage mainly in November, which can be prevented. Lack of timely and appropriate management initiatives has led to continuous proliferation of the insect.
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. The institute has advised the use of pheromone traps on the field.
Industry experts however, have expressed concerns if farmers could afford such traps. A pheromone trap with a chemical formulation consists of gossyplure and some other natural ingredients. The trap and the lure cost `20 plus taxes and a farmer ideally has to deploy about 40 such traps per acre for effective control of the pink bollworm. Gossyplure, a pheromone, attracts the male moths of the pink bollworm. When set up in cotton fields infested with pink bollworm, the trap competes with the female pink bollworm moths for the male’s attention, disrupting mating and curbing population growth of the dreaded pest.
The male moth lured by the pheromone, once trapped into the funnel-shaped trap, gets killed in the polythene cover attached to it after two days for want of food, Industry experts questioned the efficacy of the traps since farmers are not in a position to use the traps for their entire field. 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 + OP insecticides, use of light traps, pheromone traps, bio-pesticides, biological control etc are also used.
According to MG Shembekar, vice president, National Seeds Association of India ( NSAI), this time the appearance of the worm in the early stages of planting has become cause for concern for the farmers and industry alike. It started from Gujarat and has spread to parts of Maharashtra including Jalgaon, Dhule, Aurngabad, Jalna, parts of Andhra and Telangana, he said. Shembekar said that the Association has urged all seed company members to create awareness among farmers at the ground level through poster campaigns and sending staff at the ground level to educate farmers. Around 90% of the cotton crop in the country is BT Cotton.