Oil palms are cultivated in the regions where they grow well and where there are oil mills. Palm oil production has boomed over the last decades driven by increasing use as frying oil, as an ingredient in processed food and non-edible products (detergents and cosmetics), and more recently in biodiesel production.
To enhance the performance and growth, the oil palm needs a region.
1. Where it is hot all the year round
The oil palm grows well where it is hot all the year round: between 25 and 28 degrees C.
If the temperature drops, the oil palm produces fewer leaves and is more often attacked by diseases. It therefore yields less.
A hot temperature enables the oil palm to make many leaves and to produce many clusters of fruit.
2. A lot of sunshine
where there is a lot of sunshine, there will be strong photosynthesis, provided the oil palm is in soil which gives it water and mineral salts.
The leaves grow large, the fruit ripens well, and there is more oil in the fruits.
3. Plentiful rain
If it does not rain much, or if it does not rain for several months, the leaves do not grow well.
If there are few new leaves, there are few flowers and few clusters of fruit then there are fewer yields.
4. The oil palm needs a flat soil
If the soil is not flat, transport is difficult and costs a lot.
Erosion is severe; the water carries away the earth.
5. The oil palm needs a deep soil
The roots of the oil palm cannot develop il they meet a hard layer.
They cannot take up water and mineral salts that are deep down.
If the oil palm does not have enough water, yields are low.
6. The oil palm needs a permeable soil
The oil palm does not grow well if water remains around its roots for too long.
7. The oil palm needs a rich soil
In order to produce many large clusters of fruit, the oil palm needs a lot of mineral salts.
If the soil is poor, mineral salts can be added by applying fertilizers.
8. Where there are oil mills
With traditional methods, a lot of oil is left in the pulp and the kernels.
The machines of the oil mills extract all the oil contained in the pulp and the kernels.
Selected oil palms produce many clusters of fruit.
To get all the oil out of these clusters yourself, you would have to spend a lot of time.
Before planting selected oil palms, make sure you can sell the fruit clusters to a mill.
9. Where business companies or extension services can give the grower advice
It takes much money and work to make an oil palm plantation.
The grower must use modern methods in order to pay for his expenses and earn money. He will need advice on:
- how to choose the site for his plantation
- how densely to plant it
- how to look after the plantation
- how to apply fertilizers
- how to protect the oil palms against disease
A modern oil palm plantation needs a grower who has learned how to cultivate oil palms.
Growing selected oil palms is not just a matter of picking the fruit; it is a modern crop.
The grower must learn how to do his work well.
The grower should ask for advice, so that he learns to do better and better.
The grower must think about his work and plan it, so that he can always do his work at the right time.
Selected oil palms give the grower much more work than the natural trees, but they yield much more.
An oil palm grower is a modern farmer.
With the money he earns he can buy for his family what they need, and he can modernize his farm.
An oil palm begins to produce 3 or 4 years after it has been planted.
During that time the grower must spend money and work hard, without harvesting any fruit or earning any money.
To make a modern oil palm plantation takes money.
Most often you will have to pay workmen for clearing the site of the plantation and removing tree stumps.
Then you must buy seedlings and fertilizers.
Unless you apply fertilizers to the oil palms when they are still young, they will not grow well and you will have to wait a longer time before you can begin to harvest.
You may also have to pay workers to help you look after the young plantation. Weeds must not be allowed to get in the way of the oil palms, and the trees must be protected from damage by rats and agoutis.
All this work takes a lot of time, and this means that you may not have enough time to look after large fields of food crops.
You may have to buy food for your family.
Before you start an oil palm plantation, you must calculate carefully whether you will be able to pay all these expenses.
To grow oil palms takes a lot of work.
Before planting your oil palms, you have to clear the forest and remove the tree stumps.
Then it takes a lot of time to sow the cover crop, dig holes in the plantation, take the seedlings out of the nursery, carry them to the plantation and plant them.
All this work needs to be carefully done; you must take your time.
Never hurry if you want to be successful with your plantation.
Once the oil palms are planted, you must put wire netting around the young trees, you must spread fertilizer and keep watch over the plantation.
Young oil palms need a lot of care. It is better to make a smaller plantation, but look after it carefully.
Once the oil palms have begun to produce, the fruit must be harvested at the right moment.
If you cannot pick the fruit at the right moment, it becomes too ripe, many clusters will drop and the quality of the fruit will be less good.
4. To grow oil palms takes much time and much care.
Do not try to cultivate too large an area, or the work will be badly done.
It is better to cultivate a small plantation and to do the work well.
A small plantation that is well looked after can yield more than a large plantation that is badly looked after.
Read Also: Modern Method of Oil Palm Cultivation
The oil palm may have a very long life.
It is important to know about the life of the oil palm.
If you know all about the life of the oil palm, you will understand better how to cultivate them.
If you do not take care of the seeds, they will germinate only after several years.
At the research stations, the seeds are kept in a room where it is always very hot.
This makes the seeds germinate sooner, after 90 to 100 days.
Each seed germinated is planted in a small plastic container.
A new leaf grows every month.
The young seedling stays in the container for 4 to 5 months.
When you see a left with two points (bifid leaf) coming up, transplant the seedling out into the nursery.
The seedling stays in the nursery for 1 year. When it has about 15 green leaves, it is planted in the palm grove.
The seedling is therefore 16 to 18 months old when it is ready to be planted in the palm grove.
When the young oil palm has been planted in the palm grove, it produces male flowers.
The flowers form at the base of each leaf.
For several months, the oil palm produces only male flowers.
After that, for several months, it produces only female flowers.
The male flowers are grouped in spikes.
The female flowers form other spikes.
The male flowers fertilize the female flowers.
Fertilized female flowers turn into a cluster of fruit.
The oil palm has no branches.
It has a trunk and leaves. The trunk, sometimes called a stipe, is the stem of the palm.
At the tip of the stem there is one bud – one only:
This is the growing point, which makes the oil palm live and grow.
If the growing point dies, the tree dies as well.
The growing point of the adult oil palm produces 20 to 25 leaves every year.
It is most important that the growing point should produce many leaves, because there will be a flower at the base of each leaf.
If there are many leaves, there will be many flowers. And if there are many flowers, there will be many clusters of fruit.
The oil palm grows well and produces a lot in regions where it is very hot, where the sun is very strong, and where it rains a great deal.
The clusters consist of spikelets.
The spikelets contain the fruit.
Before getting the oil out of the fruit, the fruit must be separated from the spikelets.
The fruits of the oil palm consist of the following parts:
Pulp: the pulp is yellow; when the pulp is crushed it yields palm oil.
Seed: inside the shell of the seed is the kernel; when the kernel is crushed, it yields palm kernel oil.
The kernel also contains the germ.
The fruits of all oil palms are not the same.
They are not all of the same size.
The pulp is not equally thick in all of them.
The shell is not equally thick.
Some kernels have no shell at all.
There are different varieties of oil palm:
dura palms have kernels with a thick shell;
pisifera palms have kernels with no shell;
tenera palms have kernels with a thin shell.
When oil palms bear many and large fruit clusters, they yield a lot of oil.
But to get a lot of oil, each fruit must also contain a lot of pulp, a shell that is not very thick, and a big kernel.
Research stations have developed varieties of oil palm which produce many large clusters with fruits that have a lot of pulp, a thin shell and a big kernel.
These are selected oil palms.
In order to get a lot of oil, the female flowers of a dura palm are fertilized with the pollen from a pisifera palm.
Once they are fertilized, the female flowers turn into fruits.
These fruits are of the tenera variety.
The fruits of the tenera palm have a lot of pulp, a thin shell and a big kernel.
In traditional farming, nobody cultivates oil palms.
People simply pick the clusters of fruit from the oil palms that grow in the forest.
But these oil palms produce little.
The oil is extracted by traditional methods, and a lot of oil is left in the pulp and the kernel.
But nowadays oil palms are grown on modem plantations.
These contain selected oil palms with big yields.
The clusters of fruit are sold to mills which extract all the oil from the pulp and the kernels.
These oil palm plantations bring in money
for the growers who sell the fruit,
for the workers who work in the mills,
for the government which can sell the oil to foreign countries.
The growers can also earn money by raising beef cattle.
Beef cattle can be fed with the green fodder from the cover crop grown in the palm groves.
The grower can also feed his cattle with palm-kernel oil cake, that is, what is left over after extraction of the palm kernel oil.
Palm-kernel oil cake is a protein-rich food.
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