Why Oil Palm is Easy and Profitable to Plant
By: Pablito P. Pamplona, PH. D.
Recently, many farmers asked me what is the best crop to plant. With my experience as a farmer and agricultural technician and consultant, my first choice is oil palm, and I suggest that small landholders with only 3 to 5 hectares should plant a part of or their Whole farm to this crop. For one, compared to coconut, oil palm is easy to plant and maintain as it does not require much time for maintenance, harvesting and even marketing. For another, oil palm has many comparative advantages over other crops.
Similar to the best hybrid corn, oil palm H hybrid grows fast and is very sturdy once planted in the field. Oil palm trees are greener in weedy fields, where coconut trees may appear chlorotic due to weed competition.
Also, oil palm is not prone to damage by moderate drought or floods once established compared to possible extensive damage on field crops, lansones, duriam and other fruit trees. And compared to coconuts, oil palm trees are more profitable as it has much higher yield and income.
Moreover, one need not cultivate the grass fields or burn the cut second growth forest trees to successfully plant oil palm trees. Just let the forest trees decay as organic fertilizer for oil palm trees. I have tried this, and I successfully planted 5-hectare gmelina-logged-over farm without cultivation
Few maintenance activities are needed in oil palm farming compared to fruit farming, which requires time-demanding activities like pruning, irrigation and pesticide spraying, and to banana production, which needs weekly leaf pruning, monthly fertilization and desuckering.
Oil palm can thrive in flat upland plains and in hilly lands with less than 18° slope. It can also grow in newly drained swampy areas and drained lowland ricefields. It also does not require extensive drainage canals as in Cavendish or Lakatan banana farming.
Most oil palm hybrids are highly productive at lower elevations of not more than 500 meters above sea level (MASL) much similar to the elevation requirements of mango, pummelo, and other tropical tree crops. But there are new oil palm hybrids which are suitable for higher elevations of up to 1,000 MASL, where many tropical crops, including fruit and rubber trees are no longer suitable. This offers the opportunity for oil palm to be used in reforesting the denuded and cogonal high-lands to make these lands productive.
Oil palm trees produce the first commercial quantity of fruit bunches in just two years (or up to 28 months) after planting. So for farmers to cam within a year, they might as well intercrop oil palm with rice, corn, vegetables, peanut, or legumes. It can also be intercropped with lakatan banana and pineapple.
Oil palm farming is also a good investment. Because unlike coconut trees and many fruit trees which come to bearing on the average of Oil palm has fewer pest and disease problems compared to rice, corn, vegetables, and other high-value crops. Likewise, oil palm only requires minimal amount of pesticides.
For instance, mango needs six to seven pesticide sprays during fruiting season, so as with durian and more so with pummel°, which requires 10 to 12 sprayings from flowering to fruit development against rind borer. With Cavendish and Lakatan banana, such requirement is doubled; they need 22 sprayings of fungicides and insecticides per year!
Mature oil palm trees also require lesser amount of fertilizer compared to commercial hybrid corn and banana. They only need 18 bags of fertilizer per year. If supplemented with organic fertilizer, they would only need 10 bags of fertilizer per year. But with hybrid corn, 12 bags of fertilizer per cropping or 24 bags per year are applied for a yield of 10 tons per hectare. With Cavendish and Lakatan banana, 32 to 35 bags per hectare per year are needed for optimum productivity.
Moreover, mature oil palm trees have more extensive canopy than coconuts, and weeds in an oil palm plantation are limited, so herbicide application is less. This is also the reason why a lower plant density is recommended if small ruminant production is incorporated in oil palm farming to promote growth of grasses in the farm for grazing.
Since oil palm farming creates a very healthful environment suitable for vermiculture and production of small livestock, it is also ideal to plant oil palm in parks and resorts. Royal, foxtail or fishtail palms give parks and resorts shade and beauty. In fact in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand oil palm trees are used as ornamentals in hotels, resorts and high-ways.
Because oil palm fruits are harvested every 10 days, it gives more income than most crops. With coconuts, rice and corn for instance, farmers only earn every four months. With fruit trees, farmers make money once or twice a year. With sugarcane, income comes once a year and replanting is every two to three years.
But with oil palm, the yearly income of a farmer with a medium sized farm is at least P182,000 per hectare. This means he gets P15,167 per month or P5,505 every 10 days. More so if the farm is in a favorable environment; the annual income reaches P325,: per hectare or P9,042 every 10 days!
Coconut, corn and many fruit trees require intensive and expensive post-harvest practices each harvest. Not with oil palm farming.
All that an oil farmer has to do is to harvest and deliver the fruits to the milling plant within 2-3 days after harvest. The earlier the delivery, the better because the quality of the oil depends on the condition of the fruits.
Harvesting does not also require much labor, as in sugarcane farming. This is the reason why many highly productive sugar-cane fields in Thailand are converted to irrigated oil palm trees to prevent farm labor shortages during harvest.
By the way, irrigated oil palm trees yield 10 tons higher. The added yield amounts to P75,000, much higher than the annual net income from irrigated rice farm.
Harvesting and post-harvest handling of oil palm is cheaper compared to coconut, rubber, and other crops. The cost of harvesting and delivering 1 ton of oil palm fruits to the milling plant is less than P500. This is just 7 percent of the gross sale if the price is P7,500 per ton.
But with rubber and coconut, farmers normally spend one-third of the gross sale for harvesting and processing, and that is P2,500 for every P7,500 of gross sale. In rice and corn farms, about 20 percent of the gross sales goes to harvesting, threshing and drying.
Compared to rice and corn, oil palm is less adversely affected by climate change. Complete crop failure can happen with rice, corn, and other field crops when moderate to extreme drought or flood occurs, but not with oil palm.
Because oil palm trees are heavy consumers of CO2 from the atmosphere, in the process they help reduce the “green-house effect,” which causes climate change.
Also, current techniques in oil palm production ensure zero waste management. For instance, the byproducts of milling are used to produce biofuel, biogas and electricity, which reduce dependence on petroleum oil from the Arab countries. So when the prices of petroleum products increase, oil palm farmers may benefit because chances are, the price of palm oil will also increase as it is used to produce biofuel.
Fruit crops like banana, durian and pummelo are prone to stealing, that many farms in Mindanao spend much for security. The good thing with oil palm fruit is that it is difficult to steal!
Oil palm farming generates and diversifies farmers’ economic activities for higher income particularly among small land-holders with 5 ha of landholding or less. That is why in communities of Southern Thailand where oil palm is a dominant crop, farming become vibrant, dynamic and progressive. This is because in oil palm farming, a farmer spends only one day every ten days for harvesting of ripe fruit bunches.
Another day is need for maintenance like ring weeding, leaf-pruning, and fertilization. Both activities are carried out in a cool and healthful environment under the canopy of the oil palm trees. As noted in Southern Thailand, the eight free days plus part of the high income of the farmer are used to develop other farming enterprises for added income right under his mature oil palm trees. After all, the environment under the oil palm trees is highly suitable for mushroom production, vermiculture for organic fertilizer production, raising of small ruminants like swine, goats, and sheeps, broilers and native chicken for game and food.
In many parts of Malaysia and Southern Thailand, oil palm farmers are raising “Pawakan”, a native chicken also found in Jolo and Basilan, for food and recreation as cock fighting for fun as betting is prohibited in Muslim communities.
Outside his oil palm farm a farmer engages in the production of other crops — rice, corn, fruit trees, fish culture, fishing in the lakes and other bodies of water, carpentry work, retail stores, etc. In communities where oil palm farming is prominent in Indonesia and Thai-land, rural enterprises become progressive, dynamic and vibrant. Farmers have the capacity to construct concrete houses. Cogon and nipa houses are things of the past in these communities. Oil palm farmers have the capacity to buy brand new household appliances, cars and other four-wheeled vehicles, personal goods and a variety of nutritious foods. In fact, in Southern Thailand eating with friends in the restaurant and parks in the evening is a favorite pastime of oil palm farmers.
It’s high time to give our field crop farmers in Southern Philippines the needed break. For years farmers have been engaged in back aching and rigorous farm activities of planting various field crops under the scorching heat of the sun. Not necessarily for food but for cash to support the other needs of the family. These farmers need assistance in utilizing a part or a whole of their farms to plant an easy-to-plant and maintain oil palm trees. Idle and underutilized lands largely infested by cogon should be reforested using oil palm trees both for food and climate change mitigation. Large areas grown to old and senile coconut trees should be replaced with oil palm trees.
A famous Canadian Agricultural Scientist, Dr. T.H. Fairhust was correct in saying that oil palm is “the great-est crop of Southeast Asia”. In Malaysia, Indonesia, and Southern Thailand, the rural populace are enjoying the prosperity brought about by high income in oil palm farming. Although Southern Philippines is a part of the world’s best area for oil palm farming, its populace is not enjoying this prosperity. This is mainly because the Philippine government has not promoted the planting of oil palm at the level similar to those being carried out by the governments of the three other countries mentioned above.
Oil palm farming can help bring prosperity to the impoverished communities of Southern Philippines with rich agricultural resources. The small landholders should be taught and provided with resources to plant oil palm trees similar to what is done in neighboring countries in the South. The prosperity of farmers in oil palm farming will likewise bring prosperity to the country as a whole. Oil palm farming should be nurtured to become a major type of crop farming in Southern Philippines.
The Secretariat – Philippine Palmoil Development Council, Inc
2nd Flr., Quality Appliances Bldg.
Alunan Highway, Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat
Tel No. (064) 200-3881