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December 2005




Thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science Faculty of Applied Sciences

December 2005



Site-specific management is important in precision farming, which aims to optimize the use of soil resources to compensate the external inputs of fertilizers on a site-specific application basis for sustainable agriculture production. A study was undertaken to determine the variability of soil pH, selected soil and plant macronutrients, to correlate among nutrients within the soils, leaves and between soils and leaves, and to establish crop management zone for the oil palm. The study was conducted at Plot 3 of Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, an immature oil palm plantation. Located within geographic coordinates of 307,930 m to 308,103 m North and 408,659 m to 408,829 m East, the study field covers the area of 1.537 ha on inland soil classified as Oxisols. Soil sampling at 0 to 15 cm depth and leaflet sampling from frond number 9 were conducted using systematic sampling. A total of 127 samples of soils and leaves (80 soil samples and 47 leaf samples) were collected and analyzed for pH, total N, available P, exchangeable K, exchangeable Ca and exchangeable Mg contents. Both statistic and geostatistic methods were conducted to analyze the data. Statistical analysis showed small variability (< 15%) for soil pH; moderate variability (16 35%) for soil N, soil P; and high variability (> 35%) for soil K, soil Ca, soil Mg with the variability decreased in the order: soil Ca > soil Mg > soil K > soil P > soil N. On the other hand, the variability of leaf nutrient contents varied from moderate variability (16 35%) for leaf P; to high variability (> 35%) for the remaining leaf macronutrient and the variability decreased in the order: leaf K > leaf Ca > leaf Mg > leaf N > leaf P. Correlation analysis reveals that significant correlation exists among the soil macronutrients, leaf macronutrients and between soil and leaf macronutrients. Soil P and soil N, soil K and soil N, soil K and soil Ca, leaf N and soil K, leaf P and soil K showed significantly positive correlation whereas soil Ca and soil K exhibited significant negative correlation. All leaf macronutrients exhibited significant positive relationship among each other. Semivariogram analysis indicated that most of the soils properties have week spatial dependence, except for soil Ca and soil Mg that have moderate spatial dependence. The range, which is interpreted as the zone of spatial dependence were about 92.4 m for soil Mg, 117.7 m for soil pH, soil N, soil P, soil K and 310.9 m for soil Ca. The spatial distribution maps from this study reveals that the study area soil fertility status is considerable deficient in N, Mg, optimum in P, K and excess in Ca. The spatial distribution maps could give direct information of the distributions of the properties studied across the study field and also their spatial variability. This could support the site-specific crop management. The benefits of the site-specific management are to apply palms with required amount, lessen environmental impact and yet have the potential to raise yield and profitability.




I declare that the work in this thesis was carried out in accordance with the regulations of Universiti Teknologi MARA. It is original and is the result of my own work, unless otherwise indicated or acknowledged as referenced work. This topic has not been submitted to any other academic institution or non-academic institution for any other degree or qualification.

In the event that my thesis be found to violate the conditions mentioned above, I voluntarily waive the right of conferment of my degree and agree to be subjected to the disciplinary rules and regulations of Universiti Teknologi MARA.

Name of Candidate Candidates ID No. Programme Faculty Thesis Title

Nurakmar binti Abdul Rashid 2000529710 Master of Science Faculty of Applied Sciences Site-Specific Management for Sustainable Oil Palm in Kuala Lumpur International Airport Plantation

Signature of Candidate Date 28 December 2005





Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahhi Wabarakaatuh All praise is due to Allah the almighty. Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon His Slave and His Messenger, Prophet Muhammad. Many thanks to Allah, the most merciful and gracious, for all the uncountable bounties he has granted me and for guiding me to successfully finish this research. Firstly, I wish to dedicate my highest appreciation to my project supervisor, Professor Dr. Wan Mohamad Wan Abdul Kadir, who has persistently given invaluable guidance, advice and encouragement throughout the project as well as in completing this research. To my co-supervisor, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Anuar Abdul Rahim, I extend my sincere appreciation for his priceless comments, suggestions and constructive criticisms during the study. Special thanks to the management of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) Plantation Sdn. Bhd. for giving permission to excess and use their private land particularly Plot 3 as my research study field. Recognition and thanks are accorded to Bureau of Research and Consultancy (BRC), Institute of Graduate Studied and Faculty of Applied Science of Universiti Teknologi MARA for their supports in carrying out this research project. Special thanks also to En. Shamsir Tarmo and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Fauziah bte. Hj. Ismail of Universiti Teknologi MARA, En. Roslan of University Putra Malaysia as well as the staffs of both institutions whose names are not mentioned here for their assistance and cooperation in numerous ways. Many thanks to my colleagues especially Rafi, En. Bad, Noraida, Linda and James for their concern and support. Finally but most importantly, special thanks to my beloved parents, Ummi & Abah; parents in-law, Mama & Abah as well as to my husband, Rahiman. Your undying love, understanding, patience and continuous support have inspired me to persevere and strive every time to finish this research without compromising the quality time needed in taking care of my two-year old son, Muhammad Azrin. Wassallam.





ii iii iv vii viii


1 1 2 3

1.1 1.2 1.3

Introduction Scenario of oil palm plantation in Malaysia Objectives


5 5 9 9 9 9 10 10 11 13 13 16 18 18 19 20 20 22 23

2.1 2.2

Oil Palm - Elaeis guineensis Jacq Nutritional Requirement of Oil Palm 2.2.1 2.2.2 2.2.3 2.2.4 2.2.5 Nitrogen (N) Phosphorus (P) Potassium (K) Magnesium (Mg) Calcium (Ca)

2.3 2.4

Fertilizer Requirement of Oil Palm Highly Weathered Soils 2.4.1 2.4.2 Characteristics Management Spatial Variability Technique for Mapping Field Variability Semivariogram Kriging Point (Punctual) Kriging


Variability 2.5.1 2.5.2


Geostatistics 2.6.1 2.6.2 2.6.3




Precision Farming 2.7.1 2.7.2 Global Positioning System (GPS) Geographical Information System (GIS)

26 26 28


30 30 32 34 35 36 36 37 38 38 39 40 40 43 45 45 45 46 47 47 50 52 52 53

3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5

Study Area Sampling Design Method of Research Field Identification Field Sampling 3.5.1 3.5.2 Soil Sampling Leaf Sampling Soil Sample Preparation Leaf Sample Preparation Soil Analysis Leaf Analysis Descriptive Statistic Analysis Correlation Analysis Regression Analysis Semivariogram Analysis Interpolation Analysis Area Estimation Map Overlay Analysis


Sample Preparation 3.6.1 3.6.2


Laboratory Analysis 3.7.1 3.7.2


Statistical Analysis 3.8.1 3.8.2 3.8.3


Geostatistical Analysis 3.9.1 3.9.2


Spatial Analysis 3.10.1 3.10.2


55 55 57 57

4.1 4.2

Variations Among Nutrients in Soils and Nutrients in Leaves Correlation Among the Macronutrients 4.2.1 Correlation Among the Soil Macronutrients


4.2.2 4.2.3 4.3

Correlation Among the Leaf Macronutrients Correlation Between the Soil Macronutrients and Leaf Macronutrients Soil pH Total N Available P Exchangeable K Exchangeable Ca Exchangeable Mg Soil pH Total N Available P Exchangeable K Exchangeable Ca Exchangeable Mg Soil pH Total N Available P Exchangeable K Exchangeable Ca Exchangeable Mg

57 58 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 67 69 72 75 77 79 81 81 82 83 84 85 86 87

Spatial Dependence 4.3.1 4.3.2 4.3.3 4.3.4 4.3.5 4.3.6


Spatial Distribution Map and Area Estimation (Kriging Approach) 4.4.1 4.4.2 4.4.3 4.4.4 4.4.5 4.4.6


Spatial Distribution Map and Area Estimation (Spline Approach) 4.5.1 4.5.2 4.5.3 4.5.4 4.5.5 4.5.6


Zone Management


89 91 92 101

APPENDIX A Geographical Coordinates of the Sampling Points APPENDIX B Laboratory Analysis Results APPENDIX C Simple Statistic, Correlation Analysis & Simple Regression Analysis Results




Table 1.1 Table 2.1 Table 2.2 Table 2.3 Table 2.4 Table 2.5 Table 2.6 Table 2.7 Table 2.8 Table 2.9 Table 3.1 Table 3.2 Table 4.1 Table 4.2

: Planted areas under oil palm (ha) : Growth stages of oil palm tree : Planting distances and densities : Nutrient removal in fruit bunches : Fertilizer schedule for young oil palm : Mineral composition of the clay fraction of some Malaysian soils : Some characteristics of B horizons of three soils on ultrabasic rocks from Sabah : Productivity potential of some soils from Peninsular Malaysia : Score of nutrient patches around individual oil palms on Musang series soil (Typic Paleudult, Clayey, Kaolinitic, Isohyperthermic) : Error sources and positioning accuracy associated with GPS : Critical range of concentration of soil chemical properties for immature oil palm (below 6 years of age) : Critical range of concentration of leaf nutrient contents for immature oil palm (below 6 years of age) : Descriptive statistics of soil pH, soil macronutrients and leaf macronutrients (n = 63) : Pearson correlation coefficient (r value) among the soil macronutrients, leaf macronutrients and between soil macronutrients and leaf macronutrients (n = 63) : Simple linear regression equations (n = 63) : Semivariogram parameters of soil pH, soil macronutrients and leaf macronutrients

2 7 8 11 12 14 15 17 19 28 51 51 55 58

Table 4.3 Table 4.4

59 60




Figure 2.1 Figure 2.2 Figure 2.3 Figure 2.4 Figure 2.5 Figure 2.6 Figure 2.7 Figure 3.1 Figure 3.2 Figure 3.3 Figure 3.4 Figure 3.5 Figure 3.6 Figure 3.7 Figure 3.8 Figure 3.9 Figure 3.10 Figure 3.11 Figure 3.12 Figure 4.1 Figure 4.2 Figure 4.3 Figure 4.4 Figure 4.5 Figure 4.6

: An oil palm plantation. : Planting materials for oil palm (a) Dura, (b) Pisifera and (c) Tenera. : An oil palm fruit bunch. : Stages of soil formation. : Idealized semivariogram variance and sill. graph illustrating range, nugget

5 6 7 13 21 27 29 30 31 33 34 35 36 38 39 42 44 49 54 61 62 63 64 65 66

: Differential correction of GPS. : Comparison of vector and raster representation of points, lines and areas. : Plot 3 of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) oil palm plantation. Location of the study area. : Sampling design at the experimental site. : : Flow diagram of research method. : SILVA Multi-Navigator GPS. : Soil auger used for soil sampling. : Schematic representation of the position of frond in each type of spiral. : Section of the leaflet used for tissue analysis. : Flow chart diagram of soil chemical analysis procedure. : Flow chart diagram of leaf nutrient analysis procedure. : Isotropic semivariogram model (Gaussian, Linear, Spherical, Exponential and Linear-to-sill model). : Example of map overlay process using intersection operation. : Isotropic semivariogram of soil pH in the study field. : Isotropic semivariogram of leaf N (leaf) and soil N (right). : Isotropic semivariogram of leaf P (left) and soil P (right). : Isotropic semivariogram of leaf K (left) and soil K (right). : Isotropic semivariogram of leaf Ca (left) and soil Ca (right). : Isotropic semivariogram of leaf Mg (left) and soil Mg (right).



Figure 4.7 Figure 4.8 Figure 4.9 Figure 4.10 Figure 4.11 Figure 4.12 Figure 4.13 Figure 4.14 Figure 4.15 Figure 4.16 Figure 4.17 Figure 4.18 Figure 4.19 Figure 4.20

: Spatial distribution map of soil pH in the study field using Kriging interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of leaf N (left) and soil N (right) in the study field using Kriging interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of leaf P (left) and soil P (right) in the study field using Kriging interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of leaf K (left) and soil K (right) in the study field using Kriging interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of leaf Ca (left) and soil Ca (right) in the study field using Kriging interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of leaf Mg (left) and soil Mg (right) in the study field using Kriging interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of soil pH in the study field using Spline interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of leaf N (left) and soil N (right) in the study field using Spline interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of leaf P (left) and soil P (right) in the study field using Spline interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of leaf K (left) and soil K (right) in the study field using Spline interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of leaf Ca (left) and soil Ca (right) in the study field using Spline interpolation method. : Spatial distribution map of leaf Mg (left) and soil Mg (right) in the study field using Spline interpolation method. : Output map obtained from overlaying of three spatial variability Maps (Soil N, Soil P & Soil K) using intersection operation. : Zone management for NPK fertilizer in the study field.

67 69 72 75 77 79 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88






The Malaysian oil palm industry started as early as 1917, but production of palm oil grew slowly. The impetus to expand its productivity came in the late 1950 s when the government encouraged crop diversification from rubber to oil palm. Crude palm oil production increased from 92,000 tonnes in 1960 to 2.60 million tonnes in 1980 and reached to 7.82 million tonnes in 1995. The problem of low oil extraction rate (OER) continued to affect the industry. However, the increase in production masked the seriousness of the declining OER, which has dropped to 18.51% in 1995.

Malaysia became the largest producer and exporter of oil palm, replacing Nigeria as the chief producer since 1971. Production of oil palm in Malaysia is geared for exports. Export of oil palm was marginally down by 2.2% to a total of 6.51 million tonnes in 1995. Nevertheless, the export earnings increased to RM 10.1 billion compared to RM 9.4 billion in 1994.

Currently, the total area of oil palm planting is the largest for this crop occupying about one-third of the countrys total area suitable for agriculture. The rate of expansion between 1960 and 1970 was about 18% per year, 1970 1980 (13%) and 1980 1990 (7%). The planted area increased from an average yearly level of 23,600 hectares in the 1960s to 73,000 hectares in the 1970s and 96,000 hectares in 1980s. By 1995, the area under oil palm reached 2.5 million hectares (Table 1.1), accounting about a third of the countrys cultivated area. A total of 1.9 million hectares (75.7%) of the oil palm plantings are located in peninsular Malaysia and 24.2% are in the East Malaysia. Sabah and Sarawak accounted for 491,073 hectares and 117,859 hectares or 19.5% and 4.7% respectively.


Table 1.1

Planted areas under oil palm (ha).

East Malaysia Sabah 28, 947 93, 967 213, 124 252, 954 276, 171 344, 885 344, 885 374, 910 452, 485 491, 073 Sarawak 1, 117 22, 749 36, 749 49, 296 56, 188 54, 795 77, 142 83, 127 101, 888 117, 859

Year 1970 1980 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995

Peninsular Malaysia 260, 900 960, 600 1, 556, 540 1, 644, 300 1, 698, 498 1, 755, 633 1, 755, 633 1, 822, 973 1, 857, 626 1, 906, 910

Total 290, 967 1, 023, 306 1, 805, 923 1, 946, 559 1, 984, 167 2, 029, 464 2, 197, 660 2, 281, 010 2, 358, 884 2, 515, 842

Source: Department of Statistics, PORIM and PORLA (1996)


Scenario of oil palm plantation in Malaysia

The expansion in oil palm area took place through opening up of large areas of virgin forest and replanting of rubber land with oil palm. However, not all the areas or lands can be optimally used for oil palm cultivation due to the variation in soil type. Without doubt, soil type has a great influence on growth and yield, as has various climate factors. Variations in soil type exists due to high temperature and heavy rainfall, acting over a wide variety of parent materials, and yet producing a wide range of soil types.

The suitability of a soil type for oil palm cultivation is influenced by both soil physical properties (e.g. soil texture and soil structure) and soil chemical properties (e.g. pH and cation exchange capacity (CEC)). In general, the most suitable soil for oil palms is loose, alluvial loam over-laying friable clay subsoil, which retains water and facilitates root penetration. However, oil palms are also cultivated in marginal or unsuitable soils. These soils are considered as problem soils. According to Soil Survey Staff (1975), problem soils found in Malaysia can be divided into four groups, namely highly weathered soils (Oxisols), acid sulfate soils, sandy soils and organic


soils. Out of these four, Oxisols are soils that are mostly grown with oil palm in Malaysia. They are characterized by high acidity, low cation exchange capacity (CEC), low base saturation, low water-holding capacity and high aluminum (Al) concentration. Due to their characteristics, fertility and nutrient availability are often major limiting factors to these soils. Since oil palm requires a large amount of nutrients for its growth, development and fruit bunch production, application of mineral fertilizers are usually necessary to meet the shortfall in oil palm nutrients supplied by the soil (Tarmizi, 1998).

Fertilizer usage has played a major role in contributing to the advancement of sustainable oil palm plantations in Malaysia (Chew, 1985). It was estimated that fertilizer constituted about 24% of the total cost of palm oil production in Malaysia (Tan, 1988). The current fertilizer consumption in Malaysia is about one million nutrient tonnes, and of these, oil palm accounted for about 62.7% (MADI, 1997/98).

Current commercial practices of fertilizer application treat field as homogenous units with the technique of single or same rate of fertilizer application without taking into account the variability of soil properties. This inefficient fertilizer practice often leads to substantial areas being over or under fertilized. Excessive fertilizer application has caused nutrient losses through surface run-off, leaching and ground water contamination. On the other hand, insufficient fertilizer application may restrict crop growth and led to sub-optimal production. Therefore, there is a need to efficiency and judiciously utilize the fertilizer to ensure optimum and sustainable production.

With todays large-scale agriculture, if the practice still continues, will greatly give negative impacts not only to the cost of palm oil production due to high consumption and expenditure of fertilizer, but also to the environment. Therefore, there is a tendency to management of a field as a collection of many smaller units or areas with different fertilizer application based on nutrient requirements (Chan, 2000). This approach has led to the concept known as site-specific management, which requires the exploitation of a combination of field properties such as soil, topography, soil nutrient status and moisture characteristics of each unit/plot (Chan et al., 2000).




The objectives of the study are as follows:


To determine the variability of soil pH, selected soil and plant macronutrients in the study area.


To determine the relationship among nutrients within the soils, leaves and between soils and leaves.


To establish crop management zone for the oil palm.




Oil Palms (Elaeis guineensis Jacq)

Oil palm with its scientific name Elaeis guineensis Jacq belongs to the family of Palmae. The oil palm, which originated from riverine region of tropical rain forest of West Africa was first introduced to Southeast Asia by the Dutch in 1848. Neither the Dutch nor the British, who shipped oil palm seeds to the Singapore Botanical Gardens in 1875, immediately recognized the value of the oil palm as a plantation crop. Today, the oil palms are cultivated extensively in Malaysia, Indonesia, Figure 2.1 An oil palm plantation.

Nigeria, Ivory Coast, New Guinea, Costa Rica, etc., and to a limited extent in South America.

Oil palm is the highest oil-yielding crop in the vegetable kingdom. It has the potentiality to yield 4 to 6 tonnes of oil per ha per year, whereas other oilseed crops like coconut gives 1.5 tonnes/ha, soybean, sunflower, cotton groundnut, etc., give only 400 to 600 kg/ha/year. Thus, no oil-producing crop can ever compete with oil palm.

Oil palm grows well in the lowland (altitude less than 500 m above sea level) of the humid tropics (latitude between 15o North to 15o South). The oil palm requires an average rainfall of 1,800 to 2,000 mm per year, which is distributed evenly throughout the year, but will tolerate rainfall up to 5,000 mm per year. Rainfall less than 100 mm for a period of more than 3 months is not suitable for oil palm cultivation. Oil palm


thrives well at temperatures from 22 oC to 33 oC with at least 5 hours of sunshine per day (low cloud cover during daytime) throughout the year.

Oil palm can be grown in a wide range of soils, with a pH ranging from 4 to 5. It can tolerate low pH, but not thrive at very high pH (greater than 7.5). In general, the soil should be deep, well structured and well drained, which can retain water and facilitate root penetration. However, in areas where rainfall is marginally suitable, the water holding capacity of the soil is of greatest importance. Flat or gentle undulating land is preferred for oil palm cultivation.

Based on the difference in fruit internal structure, three oil palm varieties have been identified. They are Dura, Pisifera and Tenera (Figure 2.2). Dura have thick shell (usually 2 to 3 mm) with low to medium mesocarp content (35 to 55%). This is now not commercially grown. Pisifera is characterized by a shell less fruit and pea like kernel inside. Since many of the fruits do not have embryo, the seed propagation is almost impossible. Tenera is a hybrid obtained from crossing Dura (Female) and Pisifera (male), often known as "DxP". It has a thin shell usually measuring 0.5 to 4

mm with medium to high mesocarp content (60 to 95%). This is the widely cultivated type all over the world due to higher mesocarp content and resultant oil out-turn. However, tissue cultured Clonal palms are presently being developed worldwide (Better Crop International, 1999).

(a) Dura ( Shell 2 - 3 mm thick )

(b) Pisifera ( Shell less )

(c) Tenera ( Shell 0.5 - 4 mm thick )

(Source: Figure 2.2 Planting materials of oil palm (a) Dura, (b) Pisifera and (c) Tenera.


A mature palm has an average of 40 fronds (leaves). The fronds are arranged in spiral with 8 fronds being produced in successive spirals. About 20 to 30 fronds are produced annually depending on the age. The diameter of the stem varies from 35 to 65 cm. The annual increase in height is 45 to 70 cm and the palm may reach a height of 20 to 30 m.

Usually, the harvested part is the fruit fruit bunch. Fruit bunches (sessile drupe) contain fruitlets (Figure 2.3). Bunch weight increases from about 5 kg (3 years after planting) to about 50 kg (>15 year oil palms). Each fruitlet contains oil in the mesocarp (45 to 55% oil) and kernel or seed (50% oil). Oil extraction from fresh fruit bunches (FFB) ranges from 20 to 25%, while kernel extraction ranges from 4 to 6%. Figure 2.3 An oil palm fruit bunch

The wild palms have a life span of up to 200 years, but the commercial palms have an economic life span of 20 to 30 years (Table 2.1).

Table 2.1

Growth stages of oil palm tree.

Growing Phase Nursery phase Immature phase Production phase: - Steep ascent phase - Plateau phase - Declining phase Duration 10 to 12 months 24 to 30 months Year 3 to 10 Year 10 to 15 Older than 15

Source: Better Crops International (1999)


The oil palms are cultivated in a large block of land in an equilateral triangle planting pattern. The planting density ranges from 128 to 148 palms/ha, depending on planting material, soil and climate (Table 2.2). The conventional planting density is 143 palms/ha at a spacing of 9 m.

Table 2.2

Planting distances and densities.

Planting Distance (m) 8.2 8.5 8.8 9.1 9.4 9.8 (ft) 27 28 29 30 31 32

Planting Density (palms/ha) 171 160 148 136 128 120 (palms/acres) 70 65 60 55 52 48


The lining method involves making of a base line. From this base line, which should be in the north south direction, equilateral triangles with sides of 9 meters are built up by running lines at 60o to the base. This orientation and planting arrangement ensure the individual palm receiving maximum amount of sunlight.



Nutritional Requirements of Oil Palm

Macronutrients or macro elements are those whose presence is required in large amounts to perform vital functions in the plant. This classification is based on the amount of these elements present in plants. Carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and Sulphur (S) are among the macronutrients (Mengel and Kirkby, 1979).


Nitrogen (N)

As a major component of most of the important chemical substances within a plant, nitrogen is of very great significance in palm nutrition. Cell protoplasm contains high amounts of nitrogen, and it is also a constituent of proteins, amino acids, amides and alkaloids. Chlorophyll also has a nitrogen component, resulting in the pale green color of palms in which this element is deficient. When levels are sub-optimal, there is a tendency for nitrogen to be transferred from older tissues to the younger, more physiologically active region of the growing point.


Phosphorus (P)

Many of the vital growth processes in palms have an associated phosphorus component, such as its content in nucleic acids. Since these govern the process of development, deficiency in this element would be expected to lead to reduced growth, and it has also been found to have a marked influence on root development. Phosphorus is a component of numerous physiological systems associated with nutrition and respiration, as well as affecting fruit ripening. An adequate presence of this element is necessary for the efficient use and action of nitrogen.


Potassium (K)

Whilst potassium is present in all parts of the palm in fairly large amounts, it is not a constituent of the important plant components associated with metabolism. Whilst affecting a number of vital activities, such as photosynthesis and transpiration, its


precise function in oil palm nutrition is not known. It appears to be of particular importance in the physiological activities of leaves and growing point, where it may function as a catalyst for the important biochemical reaction, or as a general regulator of palm processes. Large quantities of potassium are present in fruit bunches, especially in the stalk, fiber and shell. Inadequate supplies of potassium limit fruit production.


Magnesium (Mg)

In addition to being a component of a number of enzyme systems, magnesium has a vital function in the formation of chlorophyll. When the element is deficient, the palm shows quite spectacular chlorosis, which is quite quickly corrected when magnesium is added. A particular function in oil palm is its association with phosphorus in the formation of phospholipids in oil. When a palm becomes deficient in magnesium, it is withdrawn first from the oldest tissues to maintain necessary levels in more physiologically active younger tissue, hence the earliest appearance of deficiency symptoms on the oldest fronds.


Calcium (Ca)

The main concentrations of calcium are to be found in the fronds, and a major function of this element is as a component of cell walls. Calcium is also often found as bundles of calcium oxalate crystals, or raphides, in the mesocarp of oil palm fruit. It has further functions in meristematic regions and is of particular importance in good root development. In cell physiology, it tends to regulate or inhibit the activity of potassium, and calcium may also influence nitrogen absorption. Movement within the palm from older to young tissues is very restricted, so the calcium content of young parts is lower than that of older parts.




Fertilizer Requirement of Oil Palm

Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and boron are among the elements essential for oil palm to maintain its normal growth. However, they must be in available forms to be assimilated by the palm trees. In young palms, the aim of fertilizing is to promote rapid growth and bring the palms into crop as soon as possible. In mature palms, since large quantities of nutrients are removed through the fresh fruit bunches (Table 2.3), fertilizer program in this stage is designed to maintain yield and soil fertility.

Table 2.3

Nutrient removal in fruit bunches.

Nutrient Removal (Kg/ha) N 2.94 74 P 0.44 11 K 3.71 93 Mg 0.77 19 Ca 0.81 20

Yield 1 tonne of FFB per ha 25 tonnes of FFB per ha

Source: Better Crops International (1999)

According to Pusparajah (1999), fertilizer input constitutes an important investment with considerable economy. This is because fertilizer is one of the input, which could directly control crop productivity (Dawson and Johnston, 1997). It can comprise of about 24% of the total cost of oil palm production in Malaysia (Goh et al., 2000). To ensure efficiency of fertilizer, the followings have to be considered.

i. ii. iii. iv.

Choice of fertilizers: type, source of nutrients and formulation Placement of fertilizers Rate and frequency of application Time of application

The amount of fertilizer required by oil palm during immaturity in a particular environment depends on the nutrient supplying ability of the soil, climate factors and others, which influence recovery of fertilizer. The factors, which affect fertilizer



recovery, will determine the maximum yield and its economic achievement. In mature palms, it is particularly important to take these factors into account or profits may be appreciably reduced due to uneconomic over fertilization (Foster et al., 1986). The general recommendation schedule for young oil palm is shown in Table 2.4.

Table 2.4

Fertilizer schedule for young oil palm.

Nutrient (g/plant) N 23 36 46 70 85 115 115 185 275 345 345 460 2,100 P2O5* 150 (as rock phosphate) 110 225 225 675 1,235+150 K2O 60 90 120 300 450 600 600 600 600 3,420 MgO 76 65 65 130 130 415 Fertilizer (g/plant) Borate 30 60 60 90 240

Age of palm (Months from field planting) 0 (planting hole) 1 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 24 27 31 36 Total for 3 years

* as soluble P; if rock phosphate is used reactive phosphate is preferred

Source: Uexkull and Firhurst (1991)