Punjab’s cotton crop is facing a serious threat from a whitefly infestation, causing significant damage and raising concerns among experts.
Pest management teams from the Punjab Agriculture Department are employing cluster spraying, as they estimate that around 50% of the standing crop in hotspot areas has already been affected.
In response to the whitefly menace, the department has deployed drones and high-pressure spray machines to treat both the affected areas and their surroundings, as whiteflies often seek refuge in adjacent fields, making comprehensive pesticide spraying necessary.
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Dr. Saghir Ahmed, the former director of the Central Cotton Research Institute, warns that the whitefly attack has exceeded the economic threshold, with approximately 100 bugs per leaf observed. He believes Punjab may struggle to achieve its cotton production target of 8.3 million bales this year, as over 50% of the crop may already be damaged.
The outbreak of whiteflies and mealybugs is attributed to high temperatures and insufficient watering, especially in saline-affected fields. Growers report difficulties in timely pest control due to rising pesticide costs and soaring power tariffs, making it challenging to run tube wells to lower land temperatures and deter pest attacks.
Cotton ginning factories are also affected, with a 50% decrease in cotton arrivals and a 15% reduction in yield. It is unlikely that the total lint output for the current season will surpass the target of 12.7 million bales.
Efforts to combat the whitefly invasion are underway, but smaller growers require additional support for effective pest control. Private spray companies are also hesitant to assist small growers.
The whitefly infestation poses a significant threat to Punjab’s cotton industry, warranting immediate and comprehensive action to mitigate crop losses and support affected growers.