Soil Management: Problem Soils


The first part of this paper elucidates general the principles of soil management, soil requirements and proper soil management practices for plantation tree crops. We shall now discuss how we can combine them interactively to manage problem soils for tree crops.

The term “problem soils” appeared many times in literature but it has not been well-defined yet. Longman dictionary describe the word “problem” as “a difficulty that needs attention and thought”. Therefore, problem soils may be defined as soils which require special or specific attention, though and methods to successfully managed them. Within the plantation industry, the conceptional idea of problem soils is probably “unsuitable soils for cultivation in their natural states but upon proper soil management and amendments, they can be converted for plantation tree crops with yield performances, at times, matching those on suitable soils”.

Based on this concept, there are probably six groups of problem soils, namely,

  • deep peat
  • shallow acid sulfate soils
  • saline soils
  • shallow lateritic soils
  • podzols or spodosols, and
  • sandy soils (quartzipsamments)

Each group of soils requires its own specific soil management practices and crop species. With the present lack of labour, cost of management and price of produce, oil palm is the primary tree crop grown on these soils. Therefore, this paper will be confined to practices pertaining to oil palm only while another lecture will present their characteristics and management for other crops.

There is a growing and discernible pressure from some quarters to utilise problem soils for oil palms despite the much more effort, time, difficulty and cost to do so which reduces competitiveness. This might stem from the reports of high yields on these soils but more so, from the lack of large scale experience to manage them for oil palms or for political gains. Our own experiences generally indicate that it is probably inadvisable to have more than a quarter of problem soils in any one plantations for long-term viability. Nevertheless, it is still critical to manage these soils correctly from economic standpoint, environmental consideration and to maintain competitiveness.

Goh, K.J. and Chew, P.S. (1995). Managing soils for plantation tree crops. II. Managing Problem Soils in Malaysia. In: Course on Soil Survey and Managing Tropical Soils (ed. Paramanathan, S.). MSSS and PASS, Kuala Lumpur: 246-256.

Note: The full list of references quoted in this article is available from the above paper.