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


22 May 2017

2016 Annual Interpretive Summary

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

This 6,000 ha trial began in January 2015 to enable full integration of the processes of fertilizer recommendation and application into the partner plantations. We applied a single treatment (NPKMg), at three application rates: ‘normal’ (the rate that would be applied conventionally), and +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 Research and Development of the partner plantation jointly adjust recommendations when leaf analyses results are available and regular rates defined. Fertilizer rate adjustments are only made for MOP, Urea, NPK Complexes and Zn. The rates for rock phosphate, dolomite, kieserite, and borate remain unchanged.

Project field implementation started in 2015 as the dialogue process with partner plantation and supporting IPNI member companies was developed. The initial yield, with information from more than 150 commercial-size treatment blocks, has been collected for 2015 and 2016. Yield analysis commenced at the end of 2015 to understand the impact of different fertilizer rates. The impact of fertilizer treatments was not yet fully expressed after one year of implementation, but there is indication of a change in the ‘average bunch weight’ component of FFB yield. Spatial analysis using geographically weighted regression (GWR) was developed to characterize local variation in response to fertilizer treatments within the trial area. The fertilizer rates for 2017 were determined by using local fertilizer response provided through GWR analysis.

Fertilizer remains the largest single variable cost to plantation managers, but the actual effects of the fertilizer applied 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.