Punjab to miss crop diversification target again this year

Punjab has completed sowing of paddy and other Kharif crops including cotton on over 19 lakh hectares till date.

DESPITE ATTEMPTS by the state government to encourage crop diversification from the water-guzzling paddy crop, it appears that this year too, Punjab will miss its target due to lack of policies and no assured price on alternative crops.

Punjab has completed sowing of paddy and other Kharif crops including cotton on over 19 lakh hectares till date. The state had targeted 3.25 lakh hectares, 5.37 lakh hectares and 1.50 lakh hectares under cotton, basmati and maize crops, respectively, this year. But even if this target is achieved, around 30-31 lakh hectares area is still expected to come under rice cultivation including 26-26.50 lakh hectares under paddy (non-Basmati) — which is more than double of how much area should be under paddy — with the remaining coming under basmati, which consumes less water due to lower duration of cultivation.

Cotton sowing is already over and the state could achieve 93 per cent of its fixed target as 3.04 lakh hectares was brought under cotton against against 3.25 lakh hectares — which is 21,000 hectares lesser than the target.

Sowing of basmati and maize is underway. Department sources say they are not sure if these targets will also be achieved.

In Punjab, cotton is sown on 8 out of 23 districts. The state’s cotton belt comprises Fazilka, Bathinda, Muktsar, Mansa, Sangrur, Barnala, Faridkot and Moga districts.

Sangrur Chief Agriculture Officer (CAO) Dr Surinder Singh, who is also in charge of Fazilaka district, said that this year, Fazilka has brought the largest area — 95,913 hectares — under cotton among all 8 cotton-growing districts against 86,096 hectares (according to the Punjab revenue land record department) last year. He said that in Muktsar too, area under cotton has increased from 28,000 hectares to 40,000 hectares — an increase of 43 per cent compared to last year.

“Bathinda has brought 95,600 hectares against 81,000 hectares last year as per land record department where 1.52 lakh hectares would be brought under paddy and Basmati, out of which sowing on 78,000 hectares has been completed so far,” said Bathinda CAO B S Sidhu.

Mansa and Muktsar have sown 65,000 hectares and 40,000 hectares against 51,000 hectares and 28,000 hectares last year, respectively. Apart from this, Sangrur, and Moga districts have grown 2,652 and 650 hectares cotton against 2,300 and 309 hectares last year, respectively. Barnala and Faridkot could bring 4,185 hectares under the crop against around 4,000 hectares last year.

“Punjab used to have over 7.50 lakh hectares under cotton in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which reduced to between around 6 lakh hectares in the first decade of this century and then further 4-5 lakh hectares from 2011 to 2014-15. Then a white fly attack resulted in huge reduction in the area of cotton crop in the state, which led to increase area under paddy. For the past five years, post the white fly attack, area under cotton remained below 3 lakh hectares only, which is a big setback for attempts to diversify from paddy, said a senior officer in the Punjab agriculture department. “Now the government has no concrete plans to give to the farmers for diversification and the area under cotton is also not getting increased at the desired pace,” he added.

“Like paddy, which has a fixed MSP, we need to have at an par policy of assured marketing for alternative crops — basmati, cotton and maize — to divert area from paddy,” said CAO, adding that over 5.50 lakh hectares in the state used to be under maize, which has now reduced by five times. “Till we don’t revive these area under alternative crops, diversification is not possible,” he added.

There are over 41 lakh hectares of cultivable area in the state, which includes around 3 lakh hectares under horticulture and remaining under agricultural crops (both Kharif and Rabi).

“Till the time the area under cotton, maize, basmati and other Kharif crops is not increased to 25-26 lakh hectares from its existing 11-12 lakh hectares, diversification is not possible,” said a senior agriculture officer.

Data sourced from the Punjab agriculture department till June 22 shows that Punjab has completed Kharif sowing on over 19 lakh hectares — which is nearly 50 per cent of the total sowing — so far. So, 15.74 lakh area has been brought under paddy, which is over 3 lakh hectares more than last year. It also implies that Punjab has already completed paddy sowing including Basmati on 51 per cent of the estimated area.

Punjab agriculture department experts said that despite June 10 being the official date for paddy transplantation, several farmers had gone ahead with paddy transplantation much before it, because of which sowing could be completed in more area, otherwise the state could have far behind due to poor power supply to agricultural tubewells after June 10.

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