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India pips US to become 2nd largest cotton producer

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Increase in yield, Bt varieties, better crop management practices

M.R. Subramani

Chennai, Sept. 28 India has overtaken the US as the second-largest cotton producer in the world for the 2006-07 season. And it is set to retain the position next season starting October.

“Thanks to a series of developments with regard to cotton, we are the second-largest producer, consumer and exporter,” said Mr D.K. Nair, Secretary-General of the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry.

While the US saw some cotton areas being switched to grains as the latter’s price hit multi-year highs in the commodities market in the last two years, India’s cause has been helped by concerted efforts of the Centre, growers and textile industry.

“One, the yield went up considerably. Two, to some extent, Bt cotton also helped,” said an East India Cotton Association (EICA) official.

The rise in cotton production can be traced to increased use of Bt cotton.

“We cannot pin the rise in production to Bt cotton alone. The real increase in production and yield began from that point but Bt cotton helped mainly in cutting down input costs and growers’ losses,” Mr Nair said.

Cotton yield has gone up by 65 per cent since 2003. From around 302 kg a hectare during 2002-03, it is up to 518 kg this season. For the next season, according to the US Department of Agriculture, it could be 539 kg.

Bt cotton’s contribution to the total production this season is estimated at 40 per cent and for the coming season, it is projected at 55 per cent.

“Unofficially, Bt cotton contribution could be 75 per cent,” says a textile industry source.

Indian production this season (Oct 2006-Sept 2007) is estimated at 280 lakh bales of 170 kg (against 245 lakh bales last season) and for the next season, it has been projected at a minimum 300 lakh bales.

In contrast, the US production is projected to decline to 277 lakh bales this season (306 lakh bales) and next season it could dip further to 228 lakh bales.

“No other country has improved the yield as India. Yield has gone up because of better crop management practices, reduction of pesticides and other initiatives,” said Mr Nair.

“If we can improve the yield further, we can overtake China, which tops production. China can’t increase the area but we can,” he said.

India, in fact, tops the area under cotton at about 90 lakh hectares. Next season, it is projected at 95 lakh hectares. China has 57 lakh hectares under cotton, while the US 42 lakh hectares against 55 lakh hectares two years ago.

Exports next season could be around 65 lakh bales and shipments to China could match that of the US. “We could be on par with the US since its crop will be lower,” said the EICA official.

Related Stories:
Cotton exports may surpass forecast
Bt cotton field study reveals mixed picture
Cotton output may rise by 5% in 2007-08 season

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 29, 2007)
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