Estate Scale Experiments (ESE) in Oil Palm: Supporting the Oil Palm and the Fertilizer Industry to Meet the Demands of Sustainable Intensification


29 Apr 2016

2015 Annual Interpretive Summary

This project builds on the analytical approaches of Plantation Intelligence® to (a) guide the establishment of Estate-Scale Experiments (ESE) in commercial palm oil production systems, and (b) analyze and distill the results generated within such ESE for fertilizer use decisions that lead to higher returns on investment in fertilizer. Implementation is between 2015 and 2019 in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.

This 6,000 ha trial began in January 2015 to enable full integration into the partner plantations processes of fertilizer recommendation and application. We deploy a single treatment [NPKMg rate] at three application rates: ‘normal’ (the rate that would be applied conventionally), +25%, and -25%. This is a low risk design that will provide good insight about fertilizer productivity. The total fertilizer application, hence cost, will be almost the same as ‘normal’ (a slight deviation could occur due to unequal block size). The treatment is varied block-by-block. Fertilizer is applied in the normal way (i.e., hand/machine). IPNI SEAP and Agronomy R&D of the partner plantation jointly adjust recommendations when leaf analyses results are available and regular rates defined. Fertilizer rate adjustments are only made for KCl, urea, NPK, and Zn. The rates for rock phosphate, dolomite, kieserite, and borate remain unchanged.

Project field implementation started in February 2015. The dialogue process with partner plantations and supporting IPNI member companies was developed in 2015. The initial yield database with information from more than 150 commercial size treatment blocks was been completed for 2015. Yield analyses has commenced at the end of 2015 to understand the impact of different fertilizer rates on yield. A presentation was made at the IOPC 2015 Conference in Cartagena, Colombia in 2015. In 2016, the analytical protocols for such novel large estate scale experiments will be developed. Papers on fertilizer response analyses and environmental characterization for fertilizer management will be submitted to peer-reviewed international journals.

Fertilizer remains the largest single variable cost to plantation managers, but the actual effects of the applied fertilizer are largely unknown at the estate scale. Should managers reduce or increase rates, where, and by how much? The estate scale experiments embedded within the commercial production system answers these questions, because the experiment occurs at the scale at which the managers’ decisions are implemented.