Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rise in input prices impact cotton crop

By Saleem Shaikh
Daily Dawn
March 21, 2011

THE final phutti picking concluded in Sindh last month, showing a crop output lower than targeted by the provincial government.

The overall production of the crop in the province is estimated at around 3.5368 million bales as against the target of 4.2 million bales. The drop is attributed mainly to reduced area under cotton cultivation, down by 193,000 hectares to 457,000 against the target of 650,000 hectares.

According to the Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA), the overall phutti production in Sindh during the season stood at 3.785 million bales.

Agriculture officials link shortfall in sowing of 193,000 hectares to increase in prices of farm inputs. However, most of such land in cotton growing areas was not brought under cultivation of any other crop due to soaring cost of seed, fertiliser and other inputs, they said.

Nevertheless, the 2010 crop showed good performance in terms of yield, which proved helpful in bringing the output closer to the production target.

Agriculture officials said an average yield of 32.9 maunds per hectare had been achieved against the target of 27.475 maunds. Reports of 60-70 maunds per acre also came from areas having good quality of soil, where better farm inputs were available, and proper land preparation was made.

In 2009, cotton in Sindh was sown over 634,700 hectares as against the target of 650,000. The yield stood at around 4.27 million bales against the target of 3.25 million.

Sowing of BT cotton seed was the major cause of surplus phutti production in 2009. As prices of BT cotton seed and other farm inputs increased exorbitantly this year, cotton sowing suffered. The BT seed available at Rs150-200 per kg in 2009 was sold between Rs700-800 per kg in 2010.

The prices of urea and DAP fertilisers in 2009 were Rs700-750 and Rs2,400-2,800 per bag respectively. These were now selling at Rs1,200 and Rs3,400-3,500 per bag respectively. This surge in prices of farm inputs was the major cause of reduced cotton cultivation in the province.

“Because of substantial increase in prices of farm inputs, many growers could not bring their lands under cotton cultivation, which is evident in the decline in its acreage,” said Hubdar Ali, a senior agriculture official.

Situation arising out of the increase in urea prices by producers and black-marketing by dealers are worrying the poor farmers, particularly the smaller ones.

“The uncalled for hike in prices of farm inputs has made it difficult for growers to use the required quantity of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs,” remarked Sindh Chamber of Agriculture officials.

They further said that farming community had already reverted to the use of cattle dung and the refuse available with the sugar mills as fertiliser.

Phutti farmers indicated that in most areas growers had sown cotton in July instead of March due to water shortage. According sowing calendar of the provincial agriculture department, cotton sowing should be completed between April and May. Besides shortage of irrigation water, non-availability of quality seed, fertiliser and adulterated pesticides are the major reasons behind late sowing and output shortfalls.

Agriculture experts say that Phutti sown in June shows substantial fall in per acre yield and becomes prone to viral attacks. They say that different research studies have found that inadequate irrigation supplies, late sowing and application of uncertified fertiliser and pesticides often lead to poor cotton yield or make the crop susceptible to a host of viral and pest attacks.

The same happened with the cotton crop of last Kharif season. Leaf curl virus, pest attacks and reddening of leaves affected the crop, particularly in central and lower Sindh’s cotton growing areas. Besides, shedding of flower also affected the ball setting in plants resulting in loss of first and second pickings, which account for around 65 per cent phutti output.

Most of the farmers, mainly small ones, had no choice but to purchase farm inputs of whatever quality was available in local markets. Small farmers do not have cash and buy farm inputs on credit with very little say in the quality of the inputs.

“Last month more than 230 bags of adulterated DAP were confiscated during raid on a godown in Sanghar district.

Similar raids were also made in districts in January and February this year, from where complaints against sale of impure and counterfeit farm inputs came frequently,” said a senior official in the agriculture department.

He told this scribe that the department had approached the manufacturers to sell farm inputs only to registered dealers.

Farmers, however, warned that the falling trend in cotton output might continue in the coming years, if illegal trading of bogus farm inputs continued unchecked.

They have urged the government to ensure availability of pure farm inputs at fair prices and create awareness among cotton growers for maximising productivity.

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