Oil palm - the greatest crop of Southeast Asia

Oil palm - the greatest crop of Southeast Asia: Potential, nutrition and management

A summary based on a paper presented at the IFA Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1999
Courtesy of Netafim University

Mutert, E. W. & Fairhurst, T. H.
Potash and Phosphate Institute, Canada

Oil palm is by far the most efficient oil producing crop compared with soybean, sunflower, rapeseed, groundnuts and others. For example, oil yield of palm oil was 3.6 t/ha crude palm oil compared with 0.35, 0.55, 0.52 and 0.35 t/ha for these four crops, respectively. Furthermore, the energy balance expressed by the ratio of energy output is wider for oil palm than for other commercially grown oil crops. Of the total world oil production of 33 Mt in 1998, one third originated in palm oil. This crop is grown mainly in Southeast Asia while Malaysia and Indonesia are the main producers, accounting for nearly 80% of total world production.

Palm oil offers numerous health attributes such as a high content of antioxidants, acids and other ingredients which assist in sustaining low cholesterol levels in human blood. It may be used in the production of margarine, cocoa butter substitutes, soap, detergent, lubricants, bio-fuel and many byproducts of the nut. There is no doubt that palm oil will become a major crop and a major source of income in Southeastern Asian countries.
The oil yields today are far below the on site theoretical yield potential estimated at 17 t/ha. To approach this potential, crop management must be improved by combining superior germplasm with adequate water and nutrient supply along with efficient agronomic management.

Using clones of superior lines yielded 30% more oil than DxP seedlings in test plots. This was just the beginning. Further research and development is expected to yield better results. Better clones require higher fertilizer input as shown in better response to fertilizer by the clones; however, the clones were more efficient in utilizing fertilizer than the DxP variety. Presently, fertilizer use in well managed regions is 66 kg N, 34 kg P2O5 and 153 kg K2O per hectare. These amounts are insufficient for maximum yields. Recommended levels of fertilizer application in addition to nutrient recycled in empty fruit bunch and palm oil mill effluent are: 120 kg N, 15 kg P and 150 kg K per hectare.

Research shows that minimizing water stress by adequate nutrient and water supply will improve the conversion of intercepted energy to plant dry matter; however, proper field management is also essential. Irrigation will undoubtedly improve the efficiency of response to fertilizer and better exploitation of the yield potential of the oil palm.

Key words: fertilizer management, health attributes, irrigation, irrigation management, nutrient supply, oil palm, oil palm yield, water stress, water supply

Geographic terms: Indonesia, Malaysia