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.
author: Pablito P. Pamplona, PH. D., www.trc.gov.ph