Mumbai: India’s cotton output in 2007-08 is likely to fall below the forecast of 31 million bales as key growing states have been hit by pest attacks and crop disease, government and trade officials said.

The Cotton Advisory Board, a body comprising government and trade officials, had earlier expected India’s cotton output in 2007-08 to hit a record 31 million bales, up almost 11% from 28 million bales a year ago.

Excess rainfall in key cotton growing states such as Punjab, Maharashtra and Haryana have created a conducive climate for pests such as mealy bug, grey mildew disease and reddening, a physiological disorder, researchers said.

“There are certain issues in Punjab. It is expected that due to mealy bug, production may decline by 10-15%," said J.N. Singh, advisory board chairman and textile commissioner.

It was earlier expected that Punjab would produce four million bales in 2007-08, Singh added.

In Maharashtra, the largest grower, production may be affected by more than 5%.

“We are expecting pests and diseases might affect production up to 5% (in Maharashtra)," said N.P. Hirani, chairman of the Maharashtra State Cotton Growers Marketing Federation Ltd. “But it may go up to 10% if favourable conditions remain for pests and diseases," Hirani added.

In 2006-07, Maharashtra produced 5.2 million bales of cotton.

Hirani said humid climate is conducive for crop diseases, while dry, sunny weather helps prevent the spread of pests.

“In many parts, the crop is in boll formation stage and attack in such stage will have direct effect on production," said L.A. Deshpande, head, crop improvement, Central Institute for Cotton Research.

Other major cotton producing states such as Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan have also reported minor pest attacks in some pockets.

Kishorilal Jhunjhunwala, president of the East India Cotton Association, said, “There is some damage because of diseases in some pockets, but (it) is negligible."

“At the all-India level, the crop is certainly beyond 30 million bales," he added.

India achieved a jump in cotton yields after it allowed commercial cultivation of cotton hybrids in 2002.

With increased adoption of Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt cotton, the average yield rose to 520kg per ha in 2006-07, from 308kg in 2001-02.

However, the Bt variety, which is resistant to bollworm pest, is not effective against the mealy bug and reddenings, Deshpande of the Central Institute for Cotton Research said.