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Decline in Punjab’s cotton crop

DID a newly diagnosed disease stunt the growth of cotton plants in Punjab, or did the farmers leave the plant unattended and vulnerable, causing damage to the crop?

This issue is becoming increasingly relevant as the arrival of cotton has reportedly dropped by 25pc and some ginning factories have suspended their operations in the middle of the run up to the peak season.

The farmers suspect the emergence of a new disease. Meanwhile, official crop managers cite other factors, like the lack of farmers’ interest in the crop (because of the price factor); a big drop in the application of fertiliser; persistent rains and the resulting mismanagement; and inconsistent government policies affecting the crop.

In either case, Punjab’s cotton output is said to be down by 1.5m bales so far, while Sindh’s has dropped by 1m bales. This has stoked panic buying and caused prices to rise around 40pc in the last few weeks.

The farmers, especially those in Punjab’s core cotton belt (from Multan to Rahim Yar Khan), claim that a new disease — which they, together with pathologists, have yet to diagnose —stopped the crop’s growth by the last week of August.

Earlier, the crop had survived and was said to be in good health. But then it suddenly stopped growing and farmers in certain pockets were said to have given up on it and used it as fodder for their animals because it was leafy and green and without any bolls.

The farmers, especially those in Punjab’s core cotton belt (from Multan to Rahim Yar Khan), claim that a new disease — which they, together with pathologists, have yet to diagnose — stopped the crop’s growth by the last week of August

Some pesticide importers agree with the farmers and claim that even different combinations of pesticides could not retrieve the situation. They are also fighting this new disease and have only been able to control it by 50pc in the best of circumstances.

On their part, agriculture department officials say no new disease can be ruled out given the changing climate, which has become part of the agricultural lifecycle.

But they followed up on the farmers’ complaints and checked certain pockets of the crop with stunted growth that were reportedly under attack, but found no unusual activity.

What they found was the cementing effect on the soil owing to persistent rains. This stopped the aeration of the root zone and affected the health of the plant. Since the plants were very weak, they could not stand the additional pressure created by the stoppage of air in the root zone.

The officials also cite the lower usage of fertiliser. Against the targeted 792,000 tonnes of urea, only 561,000 tonnes were utilised in July-August.

During the same period, against a target of 231,000 tonnes, only 71,000 tonnes of di-ammonium phosphate fertiliser were applied. And DAP usage was said to have dropped 83pc last month.

The officials also disagree with the reported speed with which the new disease spread. No new disease — regardless of its deadliness — could affect an entire ecological zone within a span of one month, they say.

The crop is still leafy and may have traces of the disease on it. It can, and should, be investigated thoroughly.


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