Oil Palm: Fertilizer Management


Introduction

  • Many papers have been written to highlight the importance of fertilisers for oil palm. The main premise is that healthy palms will produce optimum FFB (fresh fruit bunch) yield, which is the primary commodity of most plantations.
  • Oil palm is unrivalled in its ability to convert solar energy into dry matter and vegetable (palm) oil. However, this process requires a large amount of nutrients which must be supplied by the soil or fertilisers.
  • Unfortunately, most soils grown with oil palms have low soil fertility and therefore, mineral fertilisers are usually necessary to achieve and sustain good palm nutritional status and large yields.
  • In fact, fertilisers alone constitute about 24% of the total production cost of oil palm in Malaysia. The present economic slowdown has caused the Malaysian Ringgit to depreciate against the US dollar with the consequent rise in most fertiliser prices. This has increased the production cost of oil palm by as much as 13%.
  • One of the best means to reduce production cost is to sustain maximum yield at any one site. The maximum yield is usually close to the optimum yield because of the high indirect costs in oil palm management. However, the optimum yield is subject to the vagaries of commodity prices and therefore, difficult to predict, let alone sustain. Hence, we advocate the approach to maximise and maintain the highest yield possible at any one site, which is also known as site yield potential.
  • The above is one of the central tenets of plantation management because it enables the highest revenue to be attained at the lowest possible cost for an assured best profit. This will help to enhance the attractiveness of the oil palm industry.
  • In fact, the ability of the oil palm industry to compete with others is highly essential if we are to attract reliable and skilled workers and reduce the high turn-over of work force. This is vital towards the long-term sustainability of oil palm plantations.
  • The above points show that the benefits of sound fertiliser management for oil palm go beyond preventing nutrient deficiency and maintaining healthy palms, which have long been recognised by the industry. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Malaysian oil palm industry has invested millions of dollars in research and development on fertiliser use since the 1920’s when oil palm was first commercially grown.
  • These notes discuss the main issues of fertiliser management in oil palm in the face of the changing scenarios in plantation management. It covers the following:
    1. Agronomic principles in fertiliser management
    2. Deficiency symptoms and correction
    3. Toxicity symptoms
    4. Sources of fertilizer
    5. Methods of fertilizer application
    6. Computation of optimal fertilizer rates
    7. Pathway of soil and fertilizer nutrient losses
    8. Fertilizer efficiency
    9. Future works & Research in oil palm agronomy & work on precision agriculture
    10. Current Challenges in oil palm plantations

Reference
Goh, K.J., Teo, C.B., Chew, P.S. and Chiu, S. B. (1999) Fertiliser management in oil palm: Agronomic principles and field practices. In: Fertiliser management for oil palm plantations, 20-21, September 1999, ISP North-east Branch, Sandakan, Malaysia: 44 pp