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Pink bollworm causes extensive damage to cotton in Hry, Punjab

Chandigarh: Cotton crop in several districts of Haryana and Punjab has been hit by pink bollworm, one of the most destructive pests, this season.

Among the districts affected by the pink bollworm are Sirsa, Fatehabad, Hisar, Mahendragarh and Jind of Haryana and Bathinda and Mansa of Punjab.

Ashish Mehta, a cotton farmer from Mandi Dabwali in Sirsa said almost 30 to 40 per cent of the farmers' crop has been damaged due to the pest in his area. Before Bt cotton was introduced in the region around 2005, farmers used to suffer heavy losses due to frequent attacks of American bollworm on their cotton crop.

However, the Bt cotton, or Bollgard as it is called, was considered resistant to pests.

But the infestation now has left the farmers in distress, as they feel they might have to suffer the pest attacks every year as it occurred prior to 2005. According to experts, the female moth of pink bollworm lays eggs in a cotton boll, and when the larvae emerge from the eggs, they inflict damage through feeding.

They chew through the cotton lint to feed on the seeds. Since cotton is used for both fiber and seed oil, the damage is twofold, tell the experts.

"Since the eggs and larvae are inside the flower, the farmers are unable to even know about the pest attack till the cotton fruits open up. By then it is already too late," said Mehta.

Dr Dilip Monga, a cotton expert and former Head of the Regional Station of Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) said that for the past 5 to 7 years, the pink bollworm was being spotted in the Central and South India, but Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan were largely safe from it.

Monga said that pink bollworm is a monophagous pest that feeds on one crop, cotton only. "Since farmers in this part of the country adopt double cropping system as against Central and South India where a single crop is generally possible in a year, the Northern states were not hit till last year as the pest population of one cotton season would not survive till the next," he said.

Monga said that from the last season, the pest has come to Punjab and Haryana with the cotton seeds transported from Central and Southern states for the purpose of extracting oil.

He said since the ginners store their cotton seeds in the open, it was easier for the moths to fly to neighbouring fields.

Dr SK Verma, Director of the CICR said that an alert on the pest has been issued and a meeting of top cotton scientists from Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan is scheduled to be held on September 7 to decide the strategy.

Verma said that an advisory has also been issued to the farmers on how to prevent the attack in future.

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