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LAHORE: Wheat crop in Punjab may suffer heavy yield losses this year because of ‘yellow rust’ attack which is being reported from across the province owning to prolonged humid weather.

Agriculture experts fear that the losses may go up to 30 per cent if a new rain spell, that is forecast to begin from Tuesday (today), persists for four or five days.

An official of the Pest Warning Directorate told Dawn that in 62 per cent of the 51 points they have so far surveyed they found Faisalabad-2000 variety affected by the disease in which leaves of plant turn yellow. Wheat varieties Galaxy, Sehar, Punjab 2011 and Gandam-1 (a variety introduced two years ago) have also been affected by the attack.

Dr Muhammad Asghar, a deputy director in Crop Protection Directorate of the Agriculture department, says the yellow rust pest attacks the wheat crop when humidity in atmosphere is higher while temperature remains between 20 to 25 degrees Celsius.

He says so far the disease has been spotted at lower leaves but flag leaves (upper leaves) are still safe. He fears that the new rain spell that is likely to start within 24 hours, may increase intensity of the pest attack leading to 25-30 per cent loss in yield.

Experts have suggested use of fungicides at least on the patches where the disease is found.

Dr Shaukat Ali of Agriculture’s Extension Directorate says any of the three fungicides – Nativo, Tilt and Electis Super – are equally useful for controlling the disease.

He says as the fungus attacks wheat fields in patches, farmers may use the fungicide only at the affected areas to save costs.

Pakistan Kisan Ittehad president Khalid Mahmood Khokhar, whose wheat crop in Khanewal district has also been affected by the fungus, fears that the fungicide spray will lead to production cost escalation, while the insecticides are also not easily available.

He urged the government to ensure provision of the fungicides in the market at subsidised rates.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2019