THE present cotton crop is under mild pest attack mainly by mealybug and thrips in patches of cultivated area in Sindh. The problem could worsen if prompt measures are not taken to control it.
The current dry spell carries the risk of spreading of the pest. The areas affected by pest attack, according to report, are Naushahro Feroze,Umerkot, Matiari and Sanghar districts.
Researchers and farmers say the pest attacks cotton every year. This year the attack is mild but it is somewhat unusual as compared to last four years. Pesticides are being used to control it, but those farmers who don’t have the experience use any pesticide prescribed by the dealers which often does not work.
The pest reported in patches is hampering the growth of plants.
Farmers are praying for rains that can control attack by washing the pest away from cotton leaves. But heavy rains can also spur its growth. The area between stem and root is its breeding ground, according to researchers. If farmers didn’t pay the needed attention it can pose a serious threat to their crop.
“We are prescribing the best pesticides to farmers to control the pest, but they approach dealers who sell different pesticides that are ineffective. As a result the situation gets out of hand,” says researcher Dr Atta Soomro.
Besides mealybug, thrips is also attacking cotton, he said.
“Farmers mostly grow BT variety of cotton which is susceptible to these pests,” he maintains. Until ten years back there was no mealybug but now farmers are confronted by it often ever since BT seed has been brought from Australia. The bug remains inside a shell of wax that’s why sprays don’t affect it and the pest keeps sucking the leaves until they get dry.
Sindh Abadgar Board president Abdul Majeed Nizamani says so far the situation is under control, the pest is reported to have affected 20 to 30 per cent of the crop in patches. If weather remains dry or cloudy it will help in the spread of the pest, he said. The farmers should take adequate measures to check its spread.
“Melay Bug hibernates in wild bushes along watercourses attacks cotton crop when cotton season begins,” he says.
The presence of only adult female mealybug can be detected on cotton leaves. The male adult is too small to be visible.
Following the mealybug and thrips attack in Matiari, according to grower Nadeem Shah, the cotton plant’s growth has stopped.
“The leaves are getting reddish,” he says. This has emerged as a major problem in parts of the district.
A cotton grower from Umerkot, Mir Amanullah Talpur, said it was crawler (the stage of the pest before it attains maturity) and needed to be controlled. “The pest attack so far is mild but for those farmers who lack knowledge, it is difficult to manage,” he says. The pest starts building pressure in mid July and its severity increase in August and October.
The crawlers are to be eradicated which in fact are silent killers. The natural predator of the pest is the beetle that is produced in laboratory and released in fields to overcome the problem.
‘On an average one predator eats 5,000 mealybugs in its life time.
The bug is not an indigenous pest,” he says. “The entire field cannot be treated with insecticides because it increases the cost of production so only hot spots where severity of pest is seen are segregated and tagged,” he says.
Cotton cultivation has also been hit by water shortage this year as the dry spell continues. This year the cotton crop acreage is around 12 per cent less than the sowing target of 642,000 hectares.
Cotton picking has started in lower Sindh while in upper Sindh the crop is in the stage of boll formation. Upper Sindh farmers sow the crop a bit late as compared to their counterparts in lower Sindh due to water availability.
Farmers are getting around Rs2,500 per 40 kg while traders cut one kg as wastage so growers get price for 39 kg instead of 40 kg.