In an effort to help growers keep abreast with latest developments and good agronomic practices, the Tobacco Board has formed ''field friends'' even as the growers geared up for cultivating the principal commercial crop in Prakasam district in a big way.

''After let up in rains, the farmers have completed sowing in 42,000 hectares in the district now as against 71,500 hectares authorised by the Board'', discloses Board Ongole region Regional Manager Abdulla Hameed while talking to the Hindu on Saturday.

''Seedlings raised by farmers in over 550 hectares in the district are ready for transplantation during this month'', he informed.

While warning the farmers against violating the crop size in their own interest in order to realise a better price for their produce, the official said six teams of ''farmers friends'', including three teams to cover the Ongole region, have been constituted by the Board Chairman G Kamala Vardhana Rao.

''The farmers friends will address serious issues confronted by the farmers and promote integrated pest management to improve productivity'', he explained, adding ''time has come for farmers to free their produce of any pesticide residues for acceptability of the produce among importing countries''.

''Each team will comprise a scientist from the Central Tobacco Research Institute, two scientists from the corporate majors ITC and GPM, besides field officers to provide expert opinion on farm related issues'', he says.

''One team will visit the nurseries and main fields coming under Ongole I and II auction platforms as also Tangtur I and II auction platforms. The second team will cover the tobacco grwoing areas in Kondepi and Podili I and II auction platforms, while the third team will take care of growers concerns in areas under Kandukur I and II auction platforms, he informed.

''The Board arranges subsidised phermone traps, organic pesticides and trap crops like castor'', he added.

A training programme was organised here on Saturday to encourage tobacco farmers to produce their crops more efficiently, while reducing pesticide use, and improving environmental quality.

The growers were taught on proper methods and timing of pesticide applications, and importance of cultural controls and beneficial organisms for managing tobacco insect pests.

The farmers in the district during last season have produced 30 million kg over the authorised produce of 89 million kg and realised an average price of Rs 67.11 per kg.

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