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. Over the last five years REA has succeeded in reducing inputs of inorganic fertilisers in its established plantations from 0.93 tonnes per hectare (2009) to 0.32 tonnes per hectare (2014). A significant driver behind this has been the production of organic compost on site from POME and empty fruit bunches, which was initiated in 2010. Since late 2012, compost has been produced at all three of REA’s palm oil mills. The amount of compost produced will never be sufficient to fertilise the whole supply base. Therefore, the organic compost is applied at a fixed dosage to a different area of oil palm within the supply base each year in order to spread the benefits this brings in terms of soil improvement.
Inorganic fertiliser applied per planted hectare (REAK & SYB)
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. 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.