Rains bring disease threat to Punjab cotton, rice crops

NEW DELHI, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Unseasonally heavy rains in northwestern India have damaged the cotton crop in some areas and exposed paddy to plant diseases, farmers and scientists said.

Bacterial blight, a disease that dries up a plant’s leaves, has been reported in parts of Punjab and the problem could worsen if water is not quickly drained, they said.

India is the world’s second-largest cotton producer and output in the year to September 2009 is likely to rise 3.2 percent to 32.5 million bales, with 8 percent coming from Punjab.

The state also accounts for 11 percent of India’s rice output, which rose to a record 96.4 million tonnes last year.

A farm scientist at the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana, Chander Mohan, said blight can reduce yields but added the disease was not so far widespread.

“Depending on the severity of disease, yield losses could be around 10 per cent in paddy and 5-30 percent per cent in basmati and other superior varieties like Pusa-1121.”

Light rains are forecast in Punjab in the next three days.

“High temperature and humidity may hasten the spread of blight. However, if the weather clears up in next three-four days, the incidence of disease will go down,” K.K. Gill, from PAU’s Department of Agricultural Meteorology, said.

In the cotton-growing districts of Bhatinda, Barnala, Mansa and Sangrur in southern Punjab, rains since Thursday have raised crop moisture content and delayed harvesting, farmers said.

“Due to continuous rains, we’ll not be able to pick cotton. Moisture content of cotton will also go up because of rain so we’ll not be able to get good rates,” said Sukhmandar Singh, a farmer in Bhatinda.

On Thursday, cotton was sold between 2,700 and 3,000 rupees per 100 kg in spot markets of Punjab.

“I fear that rates will go down due to increase in moisture of cotton. In my estimates, I could end up suffering 20 per cent loss in cotton this season due to rains,” said Pritam Singh, another farmer in the same region.

Punjab’s cotton acreage in 2008 fell to 528,000 hectares (1,320,000 acres) from 604,000 hectares (1,510,000 acres) due to fears of pest attack, with farmers switching over to paddy. (Editing by Mark Williams)