Going non-Bt in Vidarbha
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At a time when Bt cotton hybrids are ruling the roost, re-introducing non-Bt varieties may seem like a regressive step. But the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) here, in tandem with the agriculture department of Maharashtra government and Centrally-sponsored Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), is undertaking an experiment called high-density planting system (HDPS) of non-Bt varieties in Vidarbha to provide rain-fed farmers with shallow-soil farms a "low-cost, low-risk and high-yielding" alternative. Not to be left behind, the Bt industry has undertaken its own HDPS experiment with leading seed company Nuziweedu becoming a partner in a public-private partnership initiative of the government. By December, the results of both will be there for all to see.
HDPS is all about cultivating more plants per acre and reducing their foliage with growth regulators in order to achieve early maturity and neutralise extra-nutrient pressure on soil. While CICR is doing HDPS with the spacing of 45X10 cm as against the normal 60x30 cm on 160 acres spread over eight districts, Nuziveedu has shrunk its spacing from the recommended 120x30 cm, 150X45 cm and 180x30 cm for different conditions to about 120x30 cm on 10,000 acres in three districts. In addition to 7,500 rain-fed and 2,000 drip-irrigated acres, Nuziveedu is also undertaking HDPS with mulching (plastic film separation between rows to prevent weeds) over 500 hectares of drip-irrigated area.
The CICR plans to increase the HDPS area to 5,000 hectares by 2015. It is also undertaking experimental cultivation of near-extinct local varieties on 80 acres to boost surgical cotton (see box).
The CICR has chosen three non-Bt varieties — Suraj, PKV 081 and NH 651 for HDPS, while Nuziveedu has selected its Mallica, Mallica Gold, Bunny Bt2 and Uttam Bt hybrids. And while the Maharashtra government is helping in implementing the CICR project, farmers in the Nuziveedu experiment are part of the Maharashtra government's new PPP initiative — Integrated Agriculture Development programme where farmers will get government subsidy.
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