FERTILISER, HERBICIDE AND PESTICIDE USE

Use of fertilisers

Achieving maximum palm fruit yields with minimal cost, GHG emissions and water pollution requires careful management of our inorganic fertiliser inputs. Fertiliser application is optimised by analysing the nutrient content of systematically selected oil palm frond samples, supplemented by visual inspection of palm canopies and soil sampling. The analysis is conducted by an in-house agronomy team and verified by independent agronomy consultants. To overcome a nutrient deficiency, detected in 2015, as a result of reduced applications and uptake of inorganic fertilisers, applications of inorganic fertilisers have been increased to, and are now maintained at, historic levels helping to restore crop yields to former levels.

The group seeks to optimise the quantity of organic and inorganic fertiliser that it applies and supplements inorganic applications with organic fertiliser so as to maximise the use of the empty fruit bunches (EFB) discarded by the mills. The application of EFB for mulching provides the palms with organic matter that helps to retain ground moisture which is important during dry weather periods and also helps to minimise the application of inorganic fertiliser.

Use of pesticides

Day-to-day monitoring of environmental challenges takes place within the group’s plantation blocks to potentially improve pest management through biological control, with the aim of minimising the use of chemical intervention and to achieve optimum yields. This requires vigilance by our field teams and the use of biological control to limit pest outbreaks.

The group’s 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 group’s 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, 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.

When an outbreak does occur, chemical intervention may be necessary, but chemicals are only used to control pests as a last resort. REA has an early warning system in place to ensure that pests are detected and action taken before a 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 group’s 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.

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 2013. Instead, a less hazardous glufosinate ammonium based herbicide called Basta is used.

In March 2016, an outbreak of the leaf-eating caterpillar, Setora nitens, was detected which, at its peak, affected a total of 1,200 hectares of mature oil palm across five of our estates. Treatment to combat the outbreak began in April, with insecticides designed to specifically target the caterpillars systematically injected into the trunks of oil palms. The outbreak of caterpillars was brought under control by the end of September 2016, but insecticide application continued into the fourth quarter to prevent a resurgence. Since 2016, there have been no pest outbreaks.