Oil Palm: Nutrition

Boron requirement and distribution in the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) and some implications on manuring practices

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Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) is grown on more than 12 million hectares in the humid tropics mainly between latitude 10 ° N and 10 ° S. It contributes to about 27 % of the world’s vegetable oils and fats. Oil palm is the world’s most productive oil crop and requires a relatively high amount of B to sustain its growth and production despite being a monocotyledon (Shorrocks, 1997). In fact, it is one of the 16 plants regarded as most sensitive to B deficiency and highly responsive to B application (Shorrocks, 1997).

In Southeast Asia, the oil palm is mainly cultivated on the highly weathered Ultisols and Oxisols derived from granite, sandstones and shales. These soils have low soil B contents (Shorrocks, 1997) and therefore, B deficiency symptoms on the oil palm in various types of malformed, younger leaves are common particularly during drought. Boron deficiency causes premature lignification of the cell walls in the oil palm (Rajaratnam and Lowry, 1974) and under severe conditions, for example, at the little leaf stage, yield may decline by about 83% (Rajaratnam, 1973a). Thus, water-soluble B fertilizer such as Fertibor (15% B) is regularly applied at the rate of 1 to 3 kg B ha-1 yr-1 in the first six years after planting to prevent B deficiency in the oil palm.

Ng et al . (1968), working with the obsolete Dura planting materials, reported that B concentration in the oil palm canopy was similar to the stem. They did not find any trend in B concentrations between leaves of different ages and concluded that B may be mobile in the oil palm. In contrast, Rajaratnam (1972) using the current Tenera planting materials showed increasing B concentrations from the youngest to the oldest leaf suggesting that B is immobile in oil palm. However, they both agreed that B moves rapidly along the transpiration stream resulting in the accumulation of B at the tips of the oil palm leaf and leaflets.

K has been demonstrated to inhibit B uptake by oil palm (Rajaratnam, 1973b) whereas N fertilization may increase palm growth leading to low or deficient B concentration through dilution effect (Shorrocks, 1997). Since then, N and K fertilizer rates for the oil palm have increased substantially (Goh and Kee, 2000). It is therefore important to determine the B requirement of oil palm under current high fertilizer regimes. Tinker and Smilde (1963) postulated that the nutrient requirement of oil palm might be established by analysing the elements in the palm tissues because the bulk of the crop, and consequently its nutrient content, is large, and the long-term nutrient-supplying power of the soil is poor. The fraction of the total available nutrients held in the crop itself can then be considerable, and its nutrient requirements will be related to the amounts immobilized by the plants (Tinker and Smilde, 1963). These conditions are approached by the oil palm growing on soils with poor B supplying capacity as found in most of Southeast Asia. Despite this simple concept, the B requirements and distribution in the oil palm plantation has received little attention in the last three decades and has not been investigated for the current Tenera planting materials except in their canopy. Hence, this study was conducted with the following objectives:

  • To determine the B requirement of oil palm on an Oxisol at different palm ages
  • To investigate B mobility in oil palm using indirect method
  • To examine the distribution of B in an oil palm field at steady state on an Oxisol

Goh, K.J., Gan, H.H., Kee, K.K., Chew, P.S., and Teoh, K.C., (2007) Boron requirement and distribution in the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) and some implications on manuring practices. In: Xu. F., Goldbach H.E., Brown P.H., Bell R.W., Fujiwara T., Hunt C.D., Goldberg S. (Eds) Advances in Plant and Animal Boron Nutrition, Springer, The Netherlands: 189 – 202.

Note: The full list of references quoted in this article is available from the above paper.