The ordeal of flood-affected paddy farmers continues as basmati crop has now been hit by ‘foot rot’, a seed-borne fungal disease, in some areas, necessitating the need to seek out elusive labour for plucking the affected plants before going for a third round of cultivation.

According to agriculture experts, since this time there was a scramble for saplings after paddy transplanted in July was damaged by floods, farmers had no choice but to go for leftover seeds donated by volunteers, some of which could be infected.
Roshan, a farmer from Moonak area in Sangrur, said after a swollen Ghaggar wreaked havoc on his fields, he had got seeds of Basmati-1509 from his relatives in Jamalpur in Haryana’s Fatehabad. “I had re-cultivated paddy on July 26. But now the crop has been hit by ‘foot rot’ disease and I am left with no option, but to engage labour and go for a third round of cultivation on one acre of the affected area. We still have 4-5 days to do so for the short-duration varieties,” he said.

Rinku Moonak, BKU (Ugrahan) leader, said Moonak area was one of the worst affected by floods and many farmers had bought paddy seeds from adjoining areas, but were now facing the problem of foot-rot disease and labour shortage.
Prabhjeet Singh, a progressive farmer in Dhaleke village of Moga, who has sown basmati over 14 acres, said some of his crop was affected by the root rot disease and he was taking the advice of the agriculture department to deal with it.
Dr Ajmer Singh, director (research), at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), said it was difficult to say if farmers who arranged saplings for re-transplant managed to get the recommended varieties of paddy. “It was an unusual situation this time because of the floods. The PAU recommends that nurseries with only approved seeds be set up. Otherwise, so far the paddy crop has been shaping up well in the state. Unlike last year, even dwarf disease has not been reported,” he said.
Gurdial Singh Bal, former chief agriculture officer at Amritsar, said since foot rot was a seed-borne disease, precautions needed to be taken at the outset and not much could be done once the cultivation had been done. “The agriculture department has been running campaigns that farmers should use their own seeds. If the seed is not from a reliable source, the chances of such diseases is more. A lot of leftover seeds were used this time,” he said.
Jaswinder Singh Brar, plant protection officer, said the foot rot disease was a soil and seed borne fungal infection that hit only basmati varieties of paddy. “It is caused by Fusarium verticillioides fungi. The infected saplings turn pale yellow and become elongated and later start drying and usually die. Farmers should treat the seeds with recommended fungicides as recommended by the PAU. Treating the seed before sowing ensures healthy, disease free nursery and subsequently higher grain yield,” he said.
Punjab contributes to nearly 40% of the country’s basmati exports. Despite this, only 4.6 lakh hectares of area is estimated to be under basmati mostly in the border belt of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Ferozepur and Tarn Taran. It is nowhere close to paddy cultivation over 31.30 lakh hectares, which accounts for almost 87% area under kharif crop (June-October).

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