The Dirty Work: Oil Palm Case Study

Apr 11, 2017
BioFlora Works to Reduce Decades of Damage to Oil Palm Fields

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived primarily from the African palm. It is a common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast Asia, and parts of Brazil. Due to the limited expansion abilities of oil palm plantations in many regions of the world, it is important for growers to have a healthy, high producing crop to depend on for many years.

This task becomes more difficult however as plant pathogens, poor soil structure, and overchemicalization affect the lifespan and quality of oil palm plants. After realizing the extent of these concerns, BioFlora became actively involved in several trials to determine if our sustainable approach to agriculture could help mitigate decades worth of damage, and begin rebuilding the health of many oil palm plantings.

Our scientists, with over 40 years of hands-on expertise, were consulted in these trials, which spanned three different countries: Colombia, Guatemala, and Indonesia. Each country had some specific, as well as overlapping issues, that needed to be addressed throughout the trial. Based on these issues, BioFlora recommended a sustainable program that would best suit their needs and their particular set of environmental conditions.

Case Study 1: Colombia

Right Photo: 07.08.2013 Treated recuperating oil palm. Notice the difference in the number, fullness, and color of fronds.
Notice the difference in the number, fullness, and color of fronds in the untreated versus treated oil palm.
Left Photo: 07.08.2013 Control recuperating oil palm

The objective of this trial was to suppress the advance of two plant pathogens: Phytophthora palmivora and Fusarium solani in mature African oil palms. BioFlora also worked to accelerate the recovery rate of already infected plants.

BioFlora applied Humega® and Fulvex® as a soil application and BioFlora Seaweed Creme® as a foliar. The control plot utilized a standard conventional fertilizer program.

About Our Products

Humega is a biologically enhanced humic acid, which facilitates soil tilth and boosts microbial activity. It enhances root protection against disease by stimulating the growth of beneficial microbes.

Fulvex is an ionic, increasingly bioavailable, form of fulvic acid which assists with higher yields even when using less chemical fertilizer inputs. This is possible as the product effectively transports nutrients and other macro and trace minerals directly to cell metabolic sites.

BioFlora Seaweed Creme begins with a type of hand-harvested, sun-dried Ascophyllum nodosum. This seaweed is homogenized, processed at ambient temperatures, and then enhanced within our patented organic process. This procedure secures all of the natural, beneficial qualities of seaweed (amino acids, vitamins, auxins, gibberellins, folic and folinic acids) in order to stimulate increased flowering, fruit set, and fruit cell density for better quality produce.

About the Pathogens

Phytophthora palmivora causes bud-rot of palms, fruit-rot, or kole-roga of coconut and arecanut. These are among the most serious diseases caused by fungi and molds in South India. It occurs almost every year in many regions, including: Malnad, Mysore, Malabar, and Kanara.

Graph 2 | Recuperating Oil Palms
The second graph shows that the BioFlora treated plot had more recuperating oil palms than the Control field for every month of the trial.
Graph 1 | Unstable Oil Palms
The first graph shows that the BioFlora treated field started with over 100 additional infected palms than the Control field. Despite this, the rate of disease progression i.e. unstable plants, remained much lower.

Fusarium solani is a filamentous fungus that remains the most common disease-causing fungus in its genus. Its spread has grown worldwide and is known to cause damping-off, corn rot, fruit rot, root rot, and surface rot. The common hosts of this disease are: potatoes, peas, and beans.

Our Results

The BioFlora test area began with 228 (29.8%) unstable oil palm plantings and the Control test area began with 126 (17.6%). From these numbers, it is understood that the disease presence was over 10% higher in the BioFlora test area.

This was due to inefficient drainage and prior soil conditions, making disease susceptibility and presence much greater. At the end of the trial, the BioFlora treatment resulted in 149 new unstable plants (down to 19.5%), while the Control concluded with 183 (increased to 25.7%). This is a 6.2% difference in the number of new unstable plants over the BioFlora test plot. These percentages show that the disease advanced at a higher rate in the Control field.

Also worth noting is the increased disease presence during the rainy season, as shown in Graph 1 and 2. With BioFlora products, the treated field was able to suppress the disease beyond the Control. The BioFlora plots also showed clusters of recuperating plants. These clusters indicate a positive disease recovery, which was absent in the Control field.

Overtime, recuperating palms in the Control test area had a higher rate of relapse and did not fully recover. The oil palms in the BioFlora test area showed signs of strong recuperation, including: multiple new fronds, green foliage, increased production, and vigor.

Case Study 2: Guatemala

The objective of this trial was to increase yields and improve soil fertility in Guatemala. Specifically, BioFlora was tasked with increasing the number of bunches per hectare and the avg. weight per bunch of oil palm.

Chart 2 | Lbs per Fresh Fruiting Bunch
Further analysis of BioFlora Treatments 1 and 2 during this trial showed that both treatments once again outperformed the Control.
Chart 1 | Production
Analysis of BioFlora Treatments 1 and 2 show that both treatments drastically outperformed the Control.

Three treatments of BioFlora products were applied against a conventional fertilizer program. All BioFlora treatments were applied twice a month over the year with a motor driven sprayer, on two different soil types.

Treatment 1: 

BioFlora 0-15-15 1.0 lt / ha
BioFlora Boron-Zinc 1.0 lt / ha

Treatment 2:
BioFlora 0-15-15 1.0 lt / ha
BioFlora Boron-Zinc 1.0 lt / ha
Seaweed Creme® 0.5 lt / ha
Fulvex  0.5 lt / ha

Chart 4 | Lbs per Fresh Fruiting Bunch
Further analysis of BioFlora Treatments 1, 2 and 3 during this trial showed that all 3 treatments once again outperformed the Control.
Chart 3 | Production
Analysis of Treatments 1, 2 and 3 show that all three treatments outperformed the Control. Treatment 1 displayed the most improvement, followed by Treatment 2, followed by Treatment 3.

Treatment 3:
BioFlora 0-15-15 1.5 lt / ha
BioFlora Boron-Zinc 1.0 lt / ha
Seaweed Creme 0.5 lt / ha
Fulvex  0.5 lt / ha

Trials on sandy soils were conducted over a 1 year period in 2006 – 2007.

Trials on sandy-loam soils were conducted over a 2 year period from 2006 – 2008.

BioFlora® 0-15-15
contains a blend of nutrients designed to greatly enhance plant metabolism and nutrient assimilation. This product is also rich in oxygen, which increases microbial activity in the soil.

BioFlora® Boron-Zinc
is a balanced blend of two critical micronutrients: boron and zinc. These two elements work together to strengthen cell walls and aid in carbohydrate, protein, and auxin metabolism in many vegetable, tree, and specialty crops.

Our Results

Chart 1: Final numbers record an approximate 12.5% increase for average number of fresh fruiting bunches (FFB) against the conventional fertilizer program.

Chart 2: BioFlora treatments achieved a 10% increase in average fresh fruiting bunches (FFB) weight, compared with the conventional program.

Chart 3: BioFlora recorded an average 12.4% increase in fresh fruiting bunches (FFB).

Chart 4: BioFlora treatments achieved an 8% increase in average fresh fruiting bunch (FFB) weight, compared to the Control.

Case Study 3: Indonesia

Table 1 | Trial 2 FFB Yield
shows the FFB yield (ton / hectare). Treatment A is the Control, a full commercial program. Treatment C is 75% of the commercial program + Humega. Treatment D is 50% of the commercial program + Humega. Highest results were achieved with Treatment C.
Table 1 | Trial 1 FFB Yield
shows the yield (ton / hectare) of fresh fruiting bunches (FFB). Treatment A is the Control, a full commercial fertilizer program. Treatment B is the BioFlora Program, a full commercial program + Humega. The last row shows the percentage increase in yield using BioFlora.

The objective of this trial was to increase fresh fruiting bunches (FFB) while reducing commercial fertilizer inputs, therefore producing cost savings, increased yields, and rejuvenating highly acidic and low fertility soils.

Two trials were conducted on separate plots to test four different application ratios of commercial fertilizer supplemented with Humega.

Commercial Fertilizer Program:
46-0-0 1 kg / palm
Rock Phosphate 0.6 kg / palm
11-52-0 0.75 kg / palm

All products were broadcast manually around the weeded palm circle twice a year.

Graph 1 | Cost Comparison
shows the cost savings for BioFlora treatments B, C, and D. To show where growers can achieve the most cost savings by reducing their conventional fertilizer program and supplementing with Humega. Savings were highest when using Treatment D.

BioFlora Program:
Humega 1 liter
Diluted 9 liters water
Mixture 1 lt / palm

This mixture was applied using a Solo Knapsack around the weeded palm circle.

The first trial compared the full commercial fertilizer program (Trt A) vs. the full commercial fertilizer program plus one Humega mixture application in September 2001 (Trt B).

The second trial compared the full commercial fertilizer program (Trt A) against two reduced commercial fertilizer programs (75% – Trt C and 50% – Trt D) plus three Humega mixture applications in September 2003, 2004, and 2005 in each treatment.

Our Results

The results from the first trial indicated that adding Humega to a commercial fertilizer program would increase the amount of fresh fruiting bunches (FFB) each year over a program of standard chemical fertilizer inputs.

Bottom Left: 1 month after first application.

Surprisingly, these results were gained with only a single application of Humega in 2001, which was then monitored over the course of four years.

The results from the second trial indicated a few more important factors for oil palm growers.

First, that by reducing a commercial fertilizer program, only using 75%, and supplementing with Humega, yields could increase consistently each year over a standard conventional fertilizer program.

In addition, by reducing their commercial fertilizer application, even with the added cost of Humega, growers saved an average of 8% by reducing their commercial program.

Secondly, we learned that by reducing a conventional fertilizer program by 50%, and supplementing with Humega, yields remained similar to the full conventional fertilizer program, but saved the grower approximately 33% in cost. From these results, we can determine that to achieve the best fertility rates, growers should reduce their commercial fertilizer program to 75% and supplement with Humega. This would follow Treatment C.

Bottom Right: 2 months after first application. Notice the number of fronds have increased, they are also thicker and darker green. This palm received Treatment D (Humega and commercial fertilizer 50%).

However, the most agronomically and economically optimum rate for mature oil palms is achieved by reducing the commercial fertilizer program by 50% and supplementing with Humega. This ratio does cause lower yields, but the added cost savings to the grower more than cover the difference in reduced market value. This follows Treatment D.

Whichever option a grower chooses, they are still working to repair soils, and sustain oil palm cultivation for future generations.

Yield collection was done based on the estate practices and under the estate and research and development staff supervision (see list of conductors to the right).

For trial 1 yield data was gathered from 1999 – 2005 and from 2001 – 2005 for the second trial.

Conductors
PT Astra Agro Lestari, Tbk Jln Pulo Ayang Raya Blok OR-I Kawasan Industri Pluto
Sahala M. Hutabarat, Hari Murti Wibowow, Satyoso H, Bambang Palgoenadi.
Bogar Agricultural University
Silviana, Ricksy Prematurii

About BioFlora

BioFlora was founded in 1972 with a goal to conceptualize, develop, manufacture, market, and deliver a proprietary product line to the agricultural community. Through our innovative products and programs, we provide solutions for our customers in both domestic and international markets. Today, we have over 30 unique proprietary products that benefit growers, retailers and consumers alike. Our organic and sustainable agricultural programs maximize the efficacy and efficiency of traditional agricultural inputs, while being mindful of their environmental impact.