Jagrup Singh was forced to plow his cotton crop on two acres in Bhunder village in Gidderbaha constituency of Muktsar district, Punjab after his fields were attacked by whiteflies. Jagrup had sown cotton after 15 years, thinking that the new government of Punjab would provide good seeds and fertilizers. “It seems that they are not serious enough. I am discouraged indeed.
With excessive hot and dry weather prevailing in most parts of Punjab, the fate is more or less the same for other cotton growers in the state. Raja Singh from Behman Kaur Singh village in Bathinda district also had to uproot cotton crops on his three acres. He said, “This is the third time that my cotton crops have been attacked by pests. In 2015 I plowed it due to a whitefly attack, in 2021 due to pink bollworm and now again due to whitefly. It seems that we are being supplied with inferior quality seeds.
After facing setbacks in 2015 and 2021, another cotton farmer, Jaswinder Singh, from Deon Village of Bathinda, plowed his 2-acre crop this week due to an attack of whitefly. The pink bollworm is also in the reproductive phase, he said.
Also last year, farmers had to bear the brunt of pest attacks. The Punjab government had announced Rs 416 crore as compensation for farmers after six out of seven cotton growing districts in Punjab were attacked by the pink bollworm. Ten percent of the pay was for farm workers.
The hot and humid weather has triggered the spread of whiteflies, and agriculture experts believe that well-distributed rainfall across the cotton belt would bring rich dividends to farmers.
“The fertilizer companies tell us to wait, but the whiteflies are multiplying like anything, so we have no choice but to plow the fields,” said Kala Singh from Behman Kaur Singh village.
Workers haven’t even received last year’s compensation yet: Farmers Union
Farmers’ unions have criticized the agriculture department for substandard seeds and insecticides. “It seems the agriculture department is dependent on the weather gods after their sprays proved ineffective. This year too, the cotton belt is likely to be doomed,” said Shingara Singh Mann, Senior Vice President of Bharati Kisan Union (BKU) Ugrahan.
“What is worrying is that compensation worth more than Rs 55 crore is still pending and the farm workers have not even received a penny. So what can we expect now?” asked Mann.
The agricultural crisis in the cotton fields has brought many political leaders to the villages.
On Wednesday, the MP for Bathinda, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, visited a few villages to take stock of the situation. “I noticed that cotton crops in Naruana village are attacked by pink bollworm,” said Harsimrat Kaur Badal, and urged the state government to act quickly to help farmers “before let it not be too late”.
On Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal visited the villages of Bathinda and held a meeting with officials from the cotton belt areas of Fazilka, Bathinda, Muktsar, Sangrur, Barnala, Mansa and Faridkot.
Fake fertilizers seized
Agriculture officers also raided the shops of pesticide dealers in Bathinda on Wednesday and seized fake fertilizers. Previously they didn’t care about the canal water supply and now they care less about good quality pesticides. It seems there is a conspiracy to make agriculture a loss-making business,” said Shingara Singh Mann of BKU Ugrahan.
The compensation was sanctioned at the rate of Rs 17,000 per acre for 76% to 100% crop damage in 2021 – the highest compensation to date. In 2015, the then government of Prakash Singh Badal allocated Rs 640 crore to be donated in solatium at the rate of 8,000 per acre, of which 5% was earmarked for agricultural workers.
Agriculture Director Gurvinder Singh said: “The presence of 40-50% whiteflies in the fields is above the Economic Threshold Level (ETL) and we have advised farmers to spray the fields.
Water shortage in cotton belts
Meanwhile, the area dedicated to cotton cultivation has dropped this year to 2.5 lakh hectares from 3.03 lakh hectares last year.
This year, a breach occurred in the supply to Sirhind in April, twice in a fortnight, which delayed the supply of water to the canals. As a result, the area under cotton cultivation decreased significantly and even after that, the water supply remained insufficient in the cotton belt, agricultural experts confirmed. “Even now the canals are rotating and the Fazilka cotton belt (which is the highest in the state) is facing water shortage,” an agriculture official said on condition of anonymity. .