Post Source: dawn Economic and Business Review
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
SOME good news is expected from the cotton front this season, at least from Punjab. The current crop condition is so healthy that provincial planners are dreaming about 10 million bales.
They are convinced that even if they miss this magic figure, they would certainly be crossing nine million bales with a big margin provided nothing goes wrong during July — a crucial month for the crop.
Their current optimism is based on the favourable weather conditions, which has brought blessings â€“ controlling cotton leave curl virus (CLCV) and improving water supplies, keeping the crop out of stress. For the last many years, both these critical factors, on an average, had resulted in the loss of almost two million bales.
According to provincial figures, only two per cent crop is under the CLCV attack against 27 per cent during the first week of July last year. It makes the crop virtually virus free at the moment. With another spell of rain that hit the country, the chances of CLCV would be further reduced.
But, if the rains are as excessive as they were last year, another set of problems may occur. The crop might come under renewed stresses: excessive vegetative growth in some pockets while stunted growth in others, early boll formation in some areas while decaying in others. To make the situation even worse, pests may return — bringing the crop cycle back to square one.
The farmers hopefully would be better prepared and committed to save the crop because of more profits it brought last year. They did it last year, and there is no reason why they should not repeat the feat this year. The only thing they now need is to irrigate the crop according to the meteorological advisory. If it is already raining, they should not irrigate the crop. Instead, they should improve the drainage so that water does not remain in the field.
Last year, excessive rain had led to fungus formation around ripe bolls and hit the yield at the last moments. The cotton crop in Punjab had never seen fungus attack, and it had left everyone at loss.
The government officials may think the phenomenon was specific to last year due to extra-ordinary weather, but there is no certainty that it will not recur this year. The farmers should keep a watch.
The second reason for official optimism is the weather behaviour during May and June. There were no rains that normally lead to crust formation on the soil and forced farmers to re-sow the crop. The April sowing is thus now 70 to 80 days old, and on an identical stage of growth that makes it easier for the government officials to issue advisory. The department this year is issuing advisory every week, instead of fortnightly.
Though there was no rain during these two months, there was, however, an ample supply of water that kept the crop out of water stress. Normally once crop comes under water stress, pest attack starts. This year, healthy water supply, by and large, kept the pests away.
Third source of hope for better crop comes from the urea crisis. Urea price made it almost impossible for farmers to apply fertiliser to the crop. The prices have almost doubled in the market in the last one year.
The May off-take of urea dropped by almost 20 per cent, and farmers feared that prices would go further up, making it out of their financial reach.
The officials, however, are also reading other side of the urea prices and its off-take. If the crop can reach present healthy condition despite substantial drop in urea application, proper management can successfully take care of the crop from here onwards. This is exactly the line of thinking in official circles, and certainly not without a measure of justification.
In order to safely take the crop to final stage, the agriculture department has riveted its entire attention on its crop monitors. In order to make things easier for them, the Punjab government recently released Rs65 million for auxiliary expenses needed to save the crop.
For the first time, the officials of the agriculture department are doing something seriously for agriculture. The development can only be welcomed.
Finally, the provincial cotton planners are also hoping improvement in quality of cotton as well because of `clean crop` that the province is going to harvest.
The better management practices (BMP) carry a premier world over and provide a model that farmers and industries can replicate. It is time for the textile industry to come forward and train farmers into picking, packing, storing and transporting quality cotton so that this opportunity is not lost to mismanagement in the last moments.
The industry has taken many such initiatives in the past, but most of them lost momentum at some stage of implementation.
This year it must be taken as a God-send opportunity for the stakeholders to join hands and create an efficient integrated farmers` training programme that starts with soil preparation to transporting their produce to the market.—Ahmad Fraz Khan