Use of fertilisers
Prudent use of inorganic fertilisers is essential to obtain maximum yields at minimum cost, reduce GHG emissions and avoid water pollution from run-off or leaching. The group's inorganic fertiliser regime is designed by independent agronomy consultants, based on analysis of the nutrient content of systematically selected oil palm frond samples, supplemented by visual inspection of palm canopies and soil sampling. In 2015, it became evident that too little fertiliser was being applied resulting in a nutrient deficiency in the soils and palms and, as a consequence, lower FFB productivity. The impact of the reduced application and uptake of inorganic fertiliser was exacerbated by the prolonged droughts during 2015 and 2016 as moisture is required to mobilise the nutrients in the fertiliser to make them available to the palms. Fertiliser application during drought conditions is both costly and a waste of resources. Increased quantities of fertiliser were applied during the second half of 2016 when wetter conditions helped to boost the nutrient supply base and improve FFB yields. In order to restore the nutrient content of the soils and to maximise productivity further, the quantity of inorganic fertiliser applied in 2017 slightly increased compared to the quantity in 2016, but more than doubled the quantity applied in 2015.
Use of pesticides
REA endeavours to control pests without using chemicals wherever possible. The groups’ long established Integrated Pest Management system aims to prevent pest outbreaks by boosting biological control. In order to optimise natural pest control, REA has planted species of plants known to attract natural predators of the major leaf-eating pests of oil palms, including Bagworms and Nettle Caterpillars. These species (Turnera subulata, Turnera Ulmifolia, Antigonon leptopus) are planted at regular intervals along roads and on the corners of oil palm sub-blocks throughout the groups’ plantations. Whilst introducing barn owls is a common strategy for controlling rodents in oil palm plantations, REA has not found this to be necessary. It is thought that the population of other natural rat predators that inhabit the conservation reserves, such as leopard cats, is sufficient to control the rat population. The presence and distribution of leopard cats and other mammals is monitored by REA’s conservation team using camera traps.
Should natural pest control fail, REA has an early warning system in place to ensure that pests are detected and action taken before the problem escalates. Two harvesters in each division are tasked with monitoring the oil palms for any sign of pest damage. If signs of a pest outbreak are detected, the groups’ research audit team conducts a thorough pest census immediately to identify the species involved, the scale of the outbreak and the treatment required. Wherever possible mechanical or natural means are used to halt a pest outbreak and mitigate damage to the oil palms. Since 2005, REA has only experienced a few minor pest outbreaks, all of which have been successfully controlled by removing the affected area of the plant. Chemicals are only used to control pests as a last resort.
Where it is necessary to use chemicals to control weeds or pests, precautions are taken to protect the health and safety of employees and the environment. The medical team conducts blood and lung tests twice a year to check for chemical exposure in workers who come into regular contact with pesticides. If workers test positive for pesticide exposure, they are rotated out of spraying and into other roles. In response to growing pressure for palm oil producers to phase out Paraquat due to fears that improper handling of this herbicide may endanger the health of workers, REA ceased to use this chemical in May 2013. Instead, a less hazardous glufosinate ammonium based herbicide called Basta is used.