Even as BT variety continues to account for over 96% of the cotton crop in the country, the demand for desi ones is slowly growing, more so in Maharashtra. The state had suffered from a severe pink bollworm attack last season. At a recent kharif review meet, Maharashtra agriculture minister Pandurang Phundkar had stated that around one lakh non-BT seed packets will be available for this kharif season. The demand, however, from Jalgaon district alone is more than 2.25 lakh packs.
VN Waghmare, acting director, Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur, says the institute has been conducting research to promote non-BT varieties of cotton. However, since many companies do not come forward for commercial production, large scale output of such seeds becomes an issue. “Of the several varieties of cotton that we have been conducting research on, around 4 varieties were identified for Maharashtra. Some of these varieties may be given to the Maharashtra State Seed Corporation for large scale production for the next season,” Waghmare said.
According to industry experts, farmers in the state would have to use BT seeds for the kharif season as the non-BT ones are not available in the market at present. Earlier this year, Maharashtra agriculture commissioner Sachindra Pratap Singh had stated the state has decided to stop renewal of licences for the long-duration varieties and had notified seed companies to provide a list of short-, medium- and long-term varieties of cotton. CICR has recommended short-duration varieties of cotton and there are several such varieties of Bt cotton available in the market, Singh said.
The institute has been attempting to persuade farmers to go in for a 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. Senior CICR officials said 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.
The agriculture minister said the government has directed agriculture universities and research centres to develop non-BT seeds.