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Cotton crop still below potential

January 13, 2005

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LAHORE, Jan 12: While a bumper cotton crop has been reportedly produced by Pakistan this year, experts feel it is still below potential in terms of yield per hectare and it is considerably lower than yields in leading cotton-growing countries.

Estimates place this year's produce at around 607kg lint per hectare. This is higher than the last year's yield and is also expected to be more than the estimate at final count. However, whatever the ultimate yield per hectare, that would be substantially lower than most other producers of cotton.

Pakistan is currently rated fourth highest producer of the crop among cotton countries. China leads the field while the US occupies second position. India is ranked third. Brazil and Uzbekistan fill fifth and sixth position.

However, yields in two of the top producers, India and Uzbekistan, are even lower than Pakistan's output as India obtains just 348kg lint per hectare and Uzbekistan' score is 410kg from land of same size.

China leads the way in yield too with 1,115kg lint per hectare and is quite a distance ahead of the US that produces 824kg lint from one hectare. Brazil has been constantly improving yield and its estimated produce per hectare is currently 662kg lint.

The three maximum yield countries are, however, not among top producers of cotton in terms of total output because of cultivation on smaller acreage, but Syria's 1,376kg and Turkey's 1,329kg lint per hectare makes these countries important in the international cotton sector.

Although Israel's yield is fantastic 1,786kg lint per hectare, the crop does not provide any economic strength to the country because the size of the crop is too small to make it a significant player in the international market.

Another high-yield country is Egypt that manages about 961kg of lint from one hectare. Egypt isn't one of the top cotton countries but it is known for cotton of excellent quality.

Dr Zafar Altaf, a former secretary the ministry of food and agriculture, does not subscribe to the view that Pakistan's yield is low. The average is not impressive but this, he told Dawn, is due to the fact that the crop is also being grown on many marginal fields where cultivation of cotton should be replaced by some other suitable crop as the land has exhaust its potential for producing a high cotton crop.

The yield of such land is extremely low, while produce in many other areas is impressive and it is the average that seems disappointing, he said. These farmers should give up cotton and shift to other crops, he emphasized and added that he knew of fields that yielded just about two mounds of lint per acre.

Dr Altaf suggested that the government should intervene in such cases, as is done in some other cotton-growing countries and persuade farmers to shift from cotton. Another factor restricting the yield is outdated agronomic practices that need to be modernized, he said.

According to the experts, Pakistan owes this year's high crop to 'extremely favourable weather conditions' as temperature and humidity levels were conducive for the growth of the crop. But otherwise, they say, high temperatures at night undermine the crop.

It has in fact been noted that night temperatures in Pakistan are one of the highest for any cotton-producing country. They were relatively mild this year and that resulted in the highest crop of the country for any period up to now.

However, while weather is a vital factor, the experts feel that the produce can be affectively improved by increasing the use of certified seed. Only about one-fifth of the cotton acreage is cultivated with certified seed, while the rest of the crop is raised form seed growers retain from the last crop.

According to Dr Zahoor Ahmed, former director of the Cotton Research Institute at Multan, better quality seed was a reliable resource for producing high crops, as certified seed provided better protection against pest attacks. Dr Zahoor also emphasized the need for more efficient pest management to obtain higher yields.