Cotton, a drought and heat tolerant crop, is set to emerge as the preferred choice of farmers in parts of central and southern India this kharif season as the arrival of monsoon has been delayed amidst the Government’s revised forecast that rains would be deficient this year.

“Going by the previous experience, cotton acreage has gained whenever the monsoon has been erratic or delayed. It does not require water on a weekly basis. We are hoping that the acreage would gain, but it all depends on the arrival of monsoon and the spatial distribution of rains,” said M Ramasami, Chairman and Managing Director of Rasi Seeds.

The onset of monsoon this year has been delayed by about five days and is expected to hit the coast of Kerala on Friday.

The Indian Metrological Department (IMD), in its latest forecast last week said that rains will be deficient by about 12 per cent over the long period average of 89 cm.

Low prices

“Drought is positive for cotton. However, prices have been low last year and that may be a deterrent,” said Dhiren Seth, President, Cotton Association of India.

The Government procured 90 lakh bales (of 170 kg each) at the minimum support price.

“Prices were bad during the peak season but have recovered during the end season and that may change the farmers’ perception,” Sheth said.

CICR propaganda

“Farmers are aware of a deficient monsoon and are looking at planting cotton. The acreage may gain, but it is too early to predict. Cotton may emerge as the preferred choice for farmers, because it offers relatively better returns when compared to other competing kharif crops,” said KR Kranthi, Director, Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR).

In fact, a cost and profitability analysis of kharif crops during 2009-10 and 2011-12 by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) has revealed that the rate of gross return and net return was the highest for cotton when compared with pulses, oilseeds and cereals.

CICR has begun gearing up as part of the contingency plan to deal with the projected deficient rains advising farmers in the Centre and South to go in for early maturing varieties and that are resistant to sap sucking pests.

Kranthi expects overall acreage to be around 12 million hectares. Last year, the cotton acreage had touched an all time high of 12.97 million hectares.

Inter cropping

Also with the prices of pulses ruling high, farmers are expected to take up the cultivation of red gram (tur) even though if there is a delay in sowing by few weeks. Kranthi expects that intercropping of red-gram with cotton to make a come back this year, particularly in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Red gram was a popular intercrop with cotton till the advent of Bt hybrids in 2002-03.

Meanwhile, planting of cotton in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, which got delayed due to the late harvest of wheat, got extended this year by a couple of weeks. “It has just come to an end and we are expecting the acreage figures from the states by early July,” Kranthi said.

However, the seed companies feel that acreage is lower in North India because of poor prices that the fibre crop fetched last year. “We feel that the acreage is lower by about 25 per cent this year,” said Rasi Seed’s Ramasami. Cotton was planted on about 1.5 million hectare in North India last year. In Karnataka and Tamil Nadu cotton should see good demand, Ramasami said adding that planting has already begun in some parts of these States that have received good pre-monsoon rains.

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