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


02 Jun 2018

2017 Annual Interpretive Summary

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

This 6,000 ha trial began in January 2015 to enable the full integration of fertilizer recommendations and application into the partner plantations. Three treatments of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium (NPKMg) were assessed: 1) normal (the rate that would be applied conventionally); 2) +25%; and 3) -25% of the conventional rates. 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 and fertilizer is applied in the normal way (i.e., hand/machine). IPNI and the agronomic research and development team of the partner plantation jointly adjusted recommendations when leaf analysis results were available, and regular rates were defined. Fertilizer rate adjustments are only made for KCl, urea, NPK, and ammonium sulphate. The rates for rock phosphate, dolomite, kieserite, and borate remain unchanged.

Project field implementation started in February 2015. The project has now generated two years of data and analysis is ongoing. Importantly, analytical techniques and methods for the interpretation of large scale on-farm experiments have been developed, including an approach that quantifies the impact of soils, weather, and topography on yields, and thereby provides understanding of the impacts of nutrition. Key publications produced include “Learning from commercial crop performance: Oil palm yield response to management under well-defined growing conditions” in Agricultural Systems 149 (2016) 99–111, “Plantation Intelligence Applied Oil Palm Operations: Unlocking Value by Analyzing Commercial Data” in The Planter, Kuala Lumpur, 93 (1094): 339-351 (2017), and “Estate Scale Experiments (ESE): Continuously improving response to fertilizer in large commercial oil palm operations” in Fertilizer FOCUS | NOV/DEC 2017, 32–36. Currently, training course materials are being prepared for wide scale dissemination of principles and lessons learnt.

Fertilizer remains the single largest 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.