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Southeast Asia, currently the hub of oil palm industry with Indonesia and Malaysia accounting for about 85-90 per cent of the worldwide production, needs to introduce innovative production methods for better gains

oilpalm Manoj KIn recent times, novel dimensions using combinations of micronutrients and biostimulants to manipulate oil palm physiology, growth and development is opening up avenues to maximise production. (Image source: Manoj K/Flickr)

Although breeding higher yielding trees of small stature continue as an important plant breeding strategy, in recent times, novel dimensions using combinations of micronutrients and biostimulants, to manipulate oil palm physiology, growth and development, is opening up avenues to maximise production. 

Oil palm agronomists in Malaysia are focussing on enhancing growth and development of nursery seedlings so that transplanted oil palm start yielding and comes into maximum oil production much sooner, while making these field plants more resilient to disease.

Shortening the non-productive period

Growing oil palm is all about maintaining economic flow of the golden liquid (palm oil) over the longest possible period.

Oil palm production targets are invariably pre-occupied with yield per season and extending economic life by breeding shorter stature trees from which bunches can be more easily harvested. Oil palm agronomists often look at the early deficit in grower income caused by the inevitable ‘oil dry’ and ‘oil lean’ periods. These occur from seed germination and nursery planting until transplanted trees bear bunches and come into their peak oil production years.

On-going investigation by agronomists is focused on minimising these lean periods for trees by hastening growth and development of nursery plants so that transplanted trees start to bear fruit sooner and reach peak oil production more quickly. 

Fighting the oil plant diseases right

The oil palm trees are under constant threat from a wide range of pests and diseases that can affect this tree crop. The most damaging, as far as Southeast Asia is concerned, is a lethal and terminal disease called basal stem rot (butt rot or trunk rot). The disease is caused by a Basidiomycete (bracket forming) fungal pathogen called Ganoderma which exists as a number of different species.  

Complete removal of old oil palm trees (also rubber and coconuts) from land earmarked for re-planting with young oil palm plants is an essential requirement for economic disease management, but invariably not enough because some plant debris will always remain as residue in the soil. Several products from the Omex are being investigated and trialled in Malaysia to boost oil palm defences and resilience to Ganoderma.

By Dr Terry Mabbett

To continue reading the rest of this article, please see the June/July 2013 issue of Far Eastern Agriculture