Hyderabad: Cotton yield in Telangana is expected to decline this year, in spite of unprecedented sowing of the crop (in 49% of the state’s total cultivable area), as unseasonal rain and an attack by the pink bollworm pest have taken a toll.

An early indication of this is the low arrival of cotton in agricultural market yards across the state despite December being peak season, pointed out a senior official from the agricultural marketing department of the state who did not wish to be quoted.

She said the cotton crop affected by the pink bollworm would have to be destroyed to ensure that the pest does not damage next season’s crop as well. The official said the quantum of fall in produce could only be assessed once all of it reached market yards in the coming days. Agricultural experts monitoring the situation have estimated a decline of between 15 and 20% in yield.

According to data from the agricultural marketing department, 6.5 lakh metric tonnes of cotton have reached markets till date, much lower than what was expected.

“November, December and January are peak months for cotton arrivals. We thought that there would be a third picking (of crop by farmers post-harvest), but now that doesn’t seem likely," the official told Mint. The department had earlier estimated that about 28 lakh metric tonnes of produce would make it to market yards in 2017-18, given that cotton cultivation touched nearly 19 lakh hectares this year, a good 50% higher than the previous year’s 12.4 lakh hectares, which had yielded 24.7 lakh metric tonnes in 2016-17. In anticipation, it had asked the Cotton Corporation of India Ltd to open 59 additional centres this year.

Earlier in October, nearly 98,000 hectares of sown land in Telangana were reported to have been “affected" due to heavy unseasonal rainfall in the first two weeks of October. Preliminary reports from the state’s agriculture department in mid-October showed that about 113,000 farmers were affected by the rain, which was recorded at over 100 millimeters in several places, much higher than the yearly average.

Officials from the department declined to disclose any more information, including how much of cotton crop had been damaged due to the pest.

Dr. M. Sudharshan Reddy, principal scientist (cotton) at Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University estimate that about 20% of the cotton yield this year could be lost due to the aforementioned factors.

“The Bollguard (BT) 2 cotton variety, which is used in the state, was earlier resistant to the pink bollworm pest. But over the last few years we are seeing that it is susceptible to it. The weather also plays a crucial role in such situations. This year we had hot/dry spells during rainy season, followed by (unseasonal) intermittent showers, which was favourable for the pest to spread," Reddy explained.

He also said that crop rotation is important to prevent pink bollworm attacks, and added that continuous measures need to be followed from pre-harvest to post-harvest to prevent the pest from affecting cotton crops.

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