Punjab cotton area seen down 8-10 percent

CHANDIGARH, India, May 23 (Reuters) - Area under cotton crop in the northern state of Punjab may fall by 8-10 percent in the current sowing season as farmers anticipate better price in paddy and on fears of pest attacks, government officials said.

“The area under cotton in Punjab this time could reduce to about 5,50,000 hectares,” P.S. Rangi, marketing consultant, Punjab State Farmers Commission, said.

Cotton sowing covered 604,000 hectares in 2007 and the production may reach 2.2 million bales, according to data from the Punjab Depratment of Agriculture.

The area under sowing may also be impacted due to untimely rains and a prolonged harvesting of the wheat crop, which delayed sowing, an official in Punjab-based textiles company, Vardhman Group, one of the largest cotton buyers in the state, said.

The state, which leads in cotton sowing, has so far sown only 30-35 percent of total area. “Normally about 90 percent of sowing should have been completed,” he said.

Punjab is India’s third biggest cotton grower after Gujarat and Maharashtra and cotton is its third major crop after wheat and paddy.

The shift is seen mainly on hopes of getting a higher minimum support price (MSP) for the paddy crop.

This year the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices has recommended a sharp rise in minimum support price of paddy, which may prompt more farmers to sow the crop this year.

“Given this situation, farmers in fringe areas where both cotton and paddy can be sown are more likely to opt for the latter resulting in a fall in the area under cotton,” Rangi said. (1 bale=170 kg) (Reporting by Ikhhlaq Singh Aujla and Abhishek Shanker; Editing by Ramya Venugopal)