With the monsoon covering most cotton-growing regions of the country, planting across Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh has picked up pace and farmers are trying to complete sowing operations before the cut-off dates. Significantly, there has been a major dip in demand for Bt cotton and farmers across the country have shown a marked preference for locally-grown varieties. \u201cThe pace of sowing operations is pretty dynamic and as against the usual 40 lakh hectares that comes under cotton plantation in Maharashtra, it remains to be seen how much area actually comes under cotton since several farmers are also opting for pigeon pea (arhar or tur dal). The cut-off date for cotton sowing is around July 10 and can be extended to July 15, after which the growth of cotton becomes stunted. Therefore, the actual acreage remains to be seen,\u201d KR Kranthi, director, Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur, said. The overall acreage across the country, however, could come down to some 105-110 lakh hectares, he said. Area under cotton cultivation was 119 lakh hectares in 2015-16. According to the data available with CICR, against the 3,000-odd hectares that usually came under local varieties of cotton last year, this season around 72,280 hectares have come under locally grown varieties in Punjab. Local cotton, which is resistant to diseases like leaf curl virus and pest attacks such as whiteflies, accounted for 7% of the total cotton acreage of 10.17 lakh hectares in north India this year. \u201cCICR expects acreage under local cotton to increase to 25% in the next two to three years. Acreage could have gone up further, if more seeds were made available to farmers this year,\u201d Kranthi said. When CICR initially approached seed companies in April for breeding locally-grown varieties, they had shown a reluctance and were anxious if there would be a demand for such seeds. However, the seed supplies were exhausted soon. In Gujarat as well, farmers are opting for two locally grown varieties \u2014 Gossypium herbaceum and G Arboreum, although the final figures are not available yet, officials said. Before the advent of Bt cotton in India, some 25-26 lakh hectares was under locally-grown varieties and this reduced to almost 2-3 lakh hectares in the last few years, Kranthi said.