Pest infestation likely to lower cotton output by 10% across major states

Bt cotton | Representative image

India's cotton output is likely to decline by 10 per cent from the pre-harvest forecast of a bumper production of 37.7 million bales (170 kg each) for 2017-18. This is due to extensive attack of the pink bollworm in major growing states.

Industry veterans gathered at the 9th Asian Textiles Conference, organised by the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry on Wednesday, estimated a massive impact on output this year, due to the infestation across Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra and Karnataka. With this, India's cotton output for the ongoing season is likely to remain flat at around 34.5 million tonnes from 2016-17, despite a significant increase in sowing during the kharif season.

The decline in overall output has prompted the government to reconsider its dependence on the widely used Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) seed. Central Institute for Cotton Research has developed a variety of medium and long staple varieties to withstand heat and flood, to get commercialised in the next season.

"We are expecting at least a 10 per cent decline in output this year from the initial estimate of around 38 mn bales at the beginning of the season," said an industry veteran. Cotton Association of India (CAI) has revised its fibre output forecast downward for the second time in two months to 36.2 mn bales, as compared to 37.5 mn at the beginning of this season.

"This forecast is based on the current situation, including arrivals in mandis (wholesale markets) and estimated availability with farmers. We might cut our output forecast further if either of these decline," said Atul Ganatra, president of CAI.

The Maharashtra government has estimated at least a 17 per cent decline in the state's output, due to the pink bollworm impact on the 4.2 mn hectares sown.

"We have advised our farmers to complete harvesting early this year and leave the field vacant for longer than the usual time, to enable worms to die in summer heat. Last year, the cotton crop was sown hastily, which allowed worms to multiply," said a senior official in the state's ministry of agriculture.

The Cotton Advisory Board at the Centre is to convene a meeting of stakeholders in the next few weeks to arrive at a final estimate of output for 2017-18. In December, it had estimated a 13 per cent decline in the average Maharashtra yield.

However, says Ganatra, recent price increases have made India's cotton export viable in global markets. These might surpass last year's 6.7 mn bales.

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