“This is the second and final picking for the year,” says Devappa Kaidali, a farmer at Kakol village near Motebennur in central Karnataka, displaying the pest-infested, poor quality cotton picked from his two-acre farm.
“Cotton has terribly let us down as the pests, mainly pink bollworm, have ravaged the fields in the region. I may finally get around two quintals per acre this year,” Kaidali said adding that the earnings from the infested fibre crop, which is being traded at around ₹3,000 per quintal in near-by markets, would not even help him service the interest on his ₹80,000 loan. “I may have to shift to other crops — either maize or chilli — in the forthcoming season,” he said when BusinessLine visited his farm recently.
Kaidali’s predicament is shared by many other cotton growers in the region, who may shift to other crops. Officials at the local Krishi Vignan Kendra at Hanumanamatti estimate that the bollworm menace would have affected around 30 per cent of the cotton growing area in the region.
The rising incidence of pink bollworm infestation in recent years across key cotton growing States such as Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka has brought no cheers to farmers, who are seen contemplating a switch over to other alternative crops such as soyabean, maize or chilli.
In fact, soyabean prices have witnessed an uptrend and ruling firm ahead of the kharif planting season, which begins in June.
“We expect the cotton sowing to fall as farmers would switch to other crops that give better returns. Soyabean has fetched better prices this year as against cotton. About 10-12 per of the cotton area in Maharashtra, Telangana and partly in Karnataka will shift to soyabean,” said Atul S Ganatra, President, Cotton Association of India (CAI), the apex trade body for the fibre crop. “This may cause prices to firm up in the coming days,” Ganatra added.
According to market sources, cotton prices which are currently ruling in the range of ₹40,000-40,800 per candy (each of 356 kg) may cross ₹45,000 by the end of May.
Dip in acreage
In its recent estimates, the Washington-based International Cotton Advisory Committee said that cotton acreage in India, the largest producer of the fibre crop, may drop to 12 million hectares in 2018-19 due to the pink bollworm infestation in the last two years that has led to losses in yields.
This might discourage farmers from sowing cotton this year, it said.
Cotton acreage had expanded 19 per cent in 2017-18 to 12.25 million ha over the previous year.
“Farmers are not happy with cotton this year. Of late, the pickings have not been good and the quality has taken a hit. The area is likely to come down but it is too early to say,” said M Ramasami, Founder of the Salem-based Rasi Seeds Private Limited, a large seed player. “We will be able to get a clearer picture in the next 10-15 days when plantings in North India will begin for 2018-19 season,” Ramasami said.
“Overall, the cotton situation is grim as textile mills are not getting good quality cotton, while farmers are not getting good price and their spends have gone up,” Ramasami added.
The National Seed Association of India (NSAI) expects a dip of 4-5 per cent in the cotton acreage in the country. Most of this could happen in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
The area in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana could remain the same as in last year.
“They are predicting a good monsoon this year. A good monsoon augurs well for the cotton sector,” said NSAI Chairman M Prabhakara Rao, adding that there was no problem with the seed availability.
Farmers in Telangana, however, expect a drop of five lakh acres in forthcoming season. “Last year, the State grew cotton on 45 lakh acres. We expect a decrease of 5 lakh acres due to heavy losses the farmers incurred in several districts because of the failure of Bollgard-II,” a farm leader said. The loss in cotton could be a gain for maize and chillis in the upcoming kharif.
Tight crop situation
In its latest estimates, the CAI had pegged the total cotton arrivals till end of February at 247.10 lakh bales (each of 170 kg). Already about 53 lakh bales have been shipped, while additional 10 lakh bales are contracted to be shipped in coming months. Total exports for the current year may touch 65 lakh bales. The surge in export demand is attributed to the increase in ICE futures prices.
CAI had estimated total supply for the 2017-18 season at 412 lakh bales, which included the opening stock of 30 lakh bales at the beginning of the season in October 2017 and the imports of 20 lakh bales. The domestic consumption was seen at 330 lakh bales.
The carry-over stock at the end of the current season on September 30, 2018 is estimated to be 22 lakh bales — down by 20 lakh bales than the previous closing stock of 42 lakh bales estimated in the previous month.