The oil palm originates from the Guinea savanna in West Africa and is found in a narrow climatic band of 10 degrees north and south of the equator, in the middle of the humid tropics. It now occupies 19 million hectares out of 300 million hectares allocated to vegetable oil production worldwide. With only 6 % of this land use, it produces 36 % of vegetable oil and can therefore be considered the most efficient oil crop. It requires an adequate supply of water and nutrients to realize this high production potential.
Oil palm – a highly productive crop with further potential of yield improvement
Oil palm has unmatched potential for vegetable oil production that can be further expanded through cultivation management, including planting material selection, planting, maintenance, and fertilization. Therefore, further increasing production to meet growing demand does not necessarily mean a significant expansion of the area planted to this crop. One of the keys to such development is fertilization, especially on the widespread nutrient-poor and low pH soils where the crop is grown. Common fertilization practices include the nutrients N, P, K, Mg, and B.
- Nutrients are usually applied in several rounds per year as either straight fertilizer, i.e., urea or ammonium sulfate, rock phosphate or DAP, potassium chloride (MOP), kieserite, and borate.
- These fertilizers are also applied as blends (bulk blends) and sometimes in the form of compounds to reduce the number of rounds and reduce labor.
- Potassium is the most important nutrient in terms of quantity, followed by nitrogen and magnesium, phosphorus, and boron.
- Sulfur, which is important for oil production, is usually supplied by kieserite or ammonium sulfate.
- K+S supplies the nutrients K, Mg and B through MOP, Kieserit and Kornkali+B.
Oil palm – producing oil for multipurpose use
The oil palm is the most efficient oil plant in the world. In the main growing areas, the oil palm reaches an average yield of about 4 t/ha of oil. The total area under cultivation is now more than 19 million hectares and is still increasing. With this area, oil palm occupies only 6 % of the land area allocated to oil crops, but produces 36 % of the world's vegetable oil. The world's major palm oil producers are Indonesia and Malaysia, which produce 85 % of the world's output.
Palm oil is a multipurpose product. Besides its use in the food industry, palm oil is an ingredient in detergents, soaps, cosmetics, candles, paints, lubricants, and biofuel. The increase in world population and the use of palm oil for biofuel are two important reasons for maximizing productivity. In the past, average yield increases have been moderate, but with new technologies, new management practices, and new innovations from research and development, it may be possible to increase yield significantly without harming the environment. A good and balanced fertilizer approach is one of the most important management tools for ensuring high yields and oil content.
The most important nutrients for Oilpalm
Oil palm has the highest demand for potassium followed by nitrogen, magnesium, and phosphorus. In addition to these four macronutrients, the micronutrient boron is often also yield limiting due to the generally acidic soil conditions and the high mobility of B which is causing losses by leaching. Ca and S are generally supplied with the used P, Mg, and N fertilizers, containing these three nutrients.
Potassium secures yield and quality
Potassium is the most important nutrient in the oil palm production. Therefore, the target of high oil yields cannot be realized without adequate supply of this nutrient. Potassium is essential for a wide range of functions within the plants physiology
- Potassium plays an important role in the conversion of light into biochemical energy during photosynthesis.
- Potassium speeds up the flow of assimilates from leaves to other plant organs (e.g. fresh fruit bunch).
- Potassium promotes the storage of assimilates as a result of increased production and improved translocation of carbohydrates - potassium increases the nitrogen use efficiency through a faster conversion of nitrogen to proteins.
- Plants supplied with sufficient potassium can utilize the soil moisture more efficiently than K-deficient plants.
Magnesium – for high photosynthesis
- Magnesium is the central atom of the chlorophyll molecule, the green pigment in leaves, which captures the light energy required for photosynthesis.
- Magnesium is involved in the carboxylase reaction of the photosynthesis, namely as a coenzyme in the fixation of CO2.
- Magnesium is needed in all processes requiring energy, e.g. starch, protein, and vitamin synthesis.
- Magnesium speeds up the assimilate transport to leaves and fruit bunches and it is required in many enzymes concerned with fatty acid and oil biosynthesis.
Sulfur belongs to the six macronutrients and is usually taken up by plants in the same order of magnitude as phosphorus and magnesium. The total sulfur content in plants varies between 0.2 % and 0.5 % of the dry matter. Sulfur is involved in many metabolic processes:
- Sulfur is required in photosynthesis, sugar, and starch production.
- Sulfur is a constituent of two amino acids which are needed to produce proteins.
- Sulfur increases the nitrogen use efficiency of the palm.
Boron is the most important micronutrient in oil palm nutrition and has many functions in physiological processes:
- Boron is essential for root elongation, carbohydrate, and cell wall formation.
- Boron is also important during polination and fruit development.
- Boron affects the protein synthesis and the regulation of nucleic acid synthesis.
- Boron activates the sucrose production and the transportation to other plant organs.
Fertilizer recommendation for oil palm
Recommendation for soil fertilization
A standard fertilizer recommendation to reach 30 tonnes fruit bunches (FFB) equivalent to approximately 6 tonnes of oil, includes an application of 3.0-3.5 kg MOP (potassium chloride) applied in two applications for mineral soils and up to 3 applications in peat soils. An application of 1.5 kg/palm ESTA Kieserit is recommended in order to supply the magnesium needs of the oil palm.
For reasons of convenience, saving time and distributing the nutrients very evenly in each application whilst ensuring the most efficient uptake and utilization of potassium, magnesium and boron, the use of Korn-Kali + B is recommended. 5.5-6.0 kg Korn-Kali + B split into 3 applications is sufficient to meet the plant’s requirements of the essential nutrients potassium, magnesium, and boron.