India’s cotton production is estimated to decline by around 10-15% during the current cotton season of 2015-16 (ending September 2016). The Cotton Association of India (CAI), the apex trade body in its last estimate in April this year pegged the cotton output for the season at 341.5 lakh bales (of 170 kg each), 10.8% below the previous year’s production of around 382 lakh bales. In its earlier estimate in December 2015, CAI had estimated a crop size of 362 lakh bales for the current season.
The Cotton Advisory Board (CAB), under the Union ministry of textiles in its latest estimate in February this year has estimated a production 352 lakh bales for 2015-16 as against its previous estimate of 365 lakh bales in November 2015. United States Department of Agriculture(USDA) in its February estimate has estimated the Indian cotton production at 27.8 million bales of 480 lb each or 355 lakh bales of 170 kg each. On the other hand, the Union agriculture ministry had in September 2015 forecast cotton output at 335 lakh bales for the current cotton season. Some of the trade observers are of the view that the cotton production for the current season will restrict to around 330 lakh bales, a drop of around 15%.
This is the second consecutive year when the cotton production will witness a decline. This follows country’s cotton production growing for the successive five years starting 2009-10 when the production rose to 305 lakh bales from 290 lakh bales year before. The cotton production touched an all time high of 398 lakh bales in 2013-14.
Apart from drought like situation in some cotton-growing areas, the lower crop estimate is mainly due to damage caused to the crop in the northern region (Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan) as also Gujarat on account of pest attacks (white-fly and pick bollworm) this year. “Pest attacks coupled with weak monsoons has been the prime reason for this downfall. Hopefully, we are going to have good rains this time round as per the forecast made by the Met department,” says Dhiren Sheth, president, CAI. The association expects output in the northern zone for 2015-16 to decline to 41 lakh bales from 53.5 lakh bales a year ago, while the south zone (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka) is likely to register a production of 106.5 lakh bales against 118.7 lakh bales. Production in the central zone, which includes Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, is pegged at 188 lakh bales (204.5 lakh bales).
The projected balance sheet drawn by CAI for 2015-16 pegs total supply at 429.10 lakh bales, while domestic consumption is seen at 305 lakh bales, thus leaving an available surplus of 124.10 lakh bales.
Cotton export is expected to drop by over 10% to 60 lakh bales in current year ending September due to rise in domestic prices which have made the natural fibre uncompetitive in the global market. The country had exported 6.7 million bales in the 2014-15. Major export destinations include Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam. The domestic cotton prices have increased by Rs 1,000 per candy in the last few days to Rs 34,000-35,000 per candy following downward estimates. “Besides, ginners and traders are also holding on to their stocks as they believe that sales at this point will not be remunerative due to weight loss (during dry summer season cotton loses weight due to less moisture content). This firmness will only be noticed till the new crops start coming into the market,” says Shirsh Shah of Bhaidas Cursondas & Co, a Mumbai-based cotton trader.
Meanwhile, looking at the recent damage incurred due to pest attacks, the government is planning to promote cultivation of indigenous cotton varieties. Though the productivity of native varieties is lower by 15-20% as compared to Bt cotton, these are less susceptible to pest attacks. Currently more than 95% of cotton acreage is under Bt cotton. India has the largest acreage under cotton in the world. In 2013-14, the acreage under cotton in the country was 11.9 million hectares. It went up by about 8 per cent to 12.8 million hectares during 2014-15. However, during 2015-16, the acreage dipped to 11.9 million hectares on account of lower realisation of value by cotton farmers during 2014-15 compared to other competing crops. However, with the focus now shifting on producing more and more food crops, there is not much scope for further expansion of acreage of cotton acreage in India.
Naturally therefore the thrust has to be on increasing productivity. Though India has made significant progress in terms of productivity, the level is well below the world average.