The Dirty Work: Oil Palm Trial Case Study

Apr 7, 2015

BioFlora® was founded in 1972 with a goal to conceptualize, develop, manufacture, market, and deliver a proprietary product line to the agricultural community. Through our innovative products and programs, we provide solutions for our customers in both domestic and international markets. Today, we have over 30 unique proprietary products that benefit growers, retailers and consumers alike. Our organic and sustainable agricultural programs maximize the efficacy and efficiency of traditional agricultural inputs, while being mindful of their environmental impact.

The Purpose of Our Trials

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived primarily from the African palm. It is a common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast Asia, and parts of Brazil. Due to the limited expansion abilities of oil palm plantations in many regions of the world, it is important for growers to have a healthy, high producing crop to depend on for many years.

This task becomes more difficult however as plant pathogens, poor soil structure, and overchemicalization affect the lifespan and quality of oil palm plants. After realizing the extent of these concerns, BioFlora® became actively involved in several trials to determine if our sustainable approach to agriculture could help mitigate decades worth of damage, and begin rebuilding the health of many oil palm plantings.

Our scientists, with over 40 years of hands-on expertise, were consulted in these trials, which spanned three different countries: Colombia, Guatemala, and Indonesia. Each country had some specific, as well as overlapping issues, that needed to be addressed throughout the trial. Based on these issues, BioFlora® recommended a sustainable program that would best suit their needs and their particular set of environmental conditions.

Case Study 1: Colombia

The objective of this trial was to suppress the advance of two plant pathogens: Phytophthora palmivora and Fusarium solani in mature African oil palms. BioFlora® also worked to accelerate the recovery rate of already infected plants.

BioFlora® applied Humega® and Fulvex® as a soil application and BioFlora Seaweed Creme® as a foliar. The control plot utilized a standard conventional fertilizer program.

Humega® is a biologically enhanced humic acid, which facilitates soil tilth and boosts microbial activity. It enhances root protection against disease by stimulating the growth of beneficial microbes.

Fulvex® is an ionic, increasingly bioavailable, form of fulvic acid which assists with higher yields even when using less chemical fertilizer inputs. This is possible as the product effectively transports nutrients and other macro and trace minerals directly to cell metabolic sites.

BioFlora Seaweed Creme® begins with a type of hand-harvested, sun-dried Ascophyllum nodosum. This seaweed is homogenized, processed at ambient temperatures, and then enhanced within our patented organic process. This procedure secures all of the natural, beneficial qualities of seaweed (amino acids, vitamins, auxins, gibberellins, folic and folinic acids) in order to stimulate increased flowering, fruit set, and fruit cell density for better quality produce.


The BioFlora® test area began with 228 (29.8%) unstable oil palm plantings and the Control test area began with 126 (17.6%). From these numbers, it is understood that the disease presence was over 10% higher in the BioFlora® test area.

This was due to inefficient drainage and prior soil conditions, making disease susceptibility and presence much greater.
At the end of the trial, the BioFlora® treatment resulted in 149 new unstable plants (down to 19.5%), while the Control concluded with 183 (increased to 25.7%). This is a 6.2% difference in the number of new unstable plants over the BioFlora® test plot. These percentages show that the disease advanced at a higher rate in the Control field.

Also worth noting is the increased disease presence during the rainy season, as shown in Graph 1 and 2. With BioFlora® products, the treated field was able to suppress the disease beyond the Control. The BioFlora® plots also showed clusters of recuperating plants. These clusters indicate a positive disease recovery, which was absent in the Control field.

Overtime, recuperating palms in the Control test area had a higher rate of relapse and did not fully recover. The oil palms in the BioFlora® test area showed signs of strong recuperation, including: multiple new fronds, green foliage, increased production, and vigor.

Graph 1 | Unstable Oil Palms The first graph shows that the BioFlora® treated field started with over 100 additional infected palms than the Control field. Despite this, the rate of disease progression i.e. unstable plants, remained much lower than the Control field.

Graph 2 | Recuperating Oil Palms The second graph shows that the BioFlora® treated plot had more recuperating oil palms than the Control field for every month of the trial. This data helps visually show the difference a sustainable fertility program can make against plant pathogens

Case Study 2: Guatemala

The objective of this trial was to increase yields and improve soil fertility in Guatemala. Specifically, BioFlora® was tasked with increasing the number of bunches per hectare and the avg. weight per bunch of oil palm.

Three treatments of BioFlora® products were applied against a conventional fertilizer program. All BioFlora® treatments were applied twice a month over the year with a motor driven sprayer, on two different soil types.

Treatment 1:
BioFlora® 0-15-15 1.0 lt / ha
BioFlora® Boron-Zinc 1.0 lt / ha

Treatment 2:
BioFlora® 0-15-15 1.0 lt / ha
BioFlora® Boron-Zinc 1.0 lt / ha
Seaweed Creme® 0.5 lt / ha
Fulvex ® 0.5 lt / ha

Treatment 3:
BioFlora® 0-15-15 1.5 lt / ha
BioFlora® Boron-Zinc 1.0 lt / ha
Seaweed Creme® 0.5 lt / ha
Fulvex ® 0.5 lt / ha

Trials on sandy soils were conducted over a 1 year period in 2006 – 2007.

Trials on sandy-loam soils were conducted over a 2 year period from 2006 – 2008.

BioFlora® 0-15-15
contains a blend of nutrients designed to greatly enhance plant metabolism and nutrient assimilation. This product is also rich in oxygen, which increases microbial activity in the soil. BioFlora® 0-15-15 is an ideally balanced formula for sustainable programs.

BioFlora® Boron-Zinc
is a balanced blend of two critical micronutrients: boron and zinc. These two elements work together to strengthen cell walls and aid in carbohydrate, protein, and auxin metabolism in many vegetable, tree, and specialty crops.

Chart 1 | Production Analysis of BioFlora® Treatments 1 and 2 show that both treatments drastically outperformed the Control. Final numbers record an approximate 12.5% increase for average number of fresh fruiting bunches (FFB) against the conventional fertilizer program.


Chart 2 | Lbs per Fresh Fruiting Bunch Further analysis of BioFlora® Treatments 1 and 2 during this trial showed that both treatments once again outperformed the Control. BioFlora® treatments achieved a 10% increase in average fresh fruiting bunches (FFB) weight, compared with the conventional program.


Chart 3 | Production Analysis of Treatments 1, 2 and 3 show that all three treatments outperformed the Control. Treatment 1 displayed the most improvement, followed by Treatment 2, followed by Treatment 3. BioFlora® recorded an average 12.4% increase in fresh fruiting bunches (FFB).


Chart 4 | Lbs per Fresh Fruiting Bunch Further analysis of BioFlora® Treatments 1, 2 and 3 during this trial showed that all 3 treatments once again outperformed the Control. BioFlora® treatments achieved an 8% increase in average fresh fruiting bunch (FFB) weight, compared to the Control.

Case Study 3: Indonesia

The objective of this trial was to increase fresh fruiting bunches (FFB) while reducing commercial fertilizer inputs, therefore producing cost savings, increased yields, and rejuvenating highly acidic and low fertility soils.

Two trials were conducted on separate plots to test four different application ratios of commercial fertilizer supplemented with Humega®.

Commercial Fertilizer Program:
46-0-0 1 kg / palm
Rock Phosphate 0.6 kg / palm
11-52-0 0.75 kg / palm

All products were broadcast manually around the weeded palm circle twice a year.

BioFlora® Program:
Humega® 1 liter
Diluted 9 liters water
Mixture 1 lt / palm

This mixture was applied using a Solo Knapsack around the weeded palm circle.

The first trial compared the full commercial fertilizer program (Trt A) vs. the full commercial fertilizer program plus one Humega® mixture application in September 2001 (Trt B).

The second trial compared the full commercial fertilizer program (Trt A) against two reduced commercial fertilizer programs (75% – Trt C and 50% – Trt D) plus three Humega® mixture applications in September 2003, 2004, and 2005 in each treatment.

Case Study 3: Results

The results from the first trial indicated that adding Humega® to a commercial fertilizer program would increase the amount of fresh fruiting bunches (FFB) each year over a program of standard chemical fertilizer inputs. Surprisingly, these results were gained with only a single application of Humega® in 2001, which was then monitored over the course of four years. The results from the second trial indicated a few more important factors for oil palm growers.

First, that by reducing a commercial fertilizer program, only using 75%, and supplementing with Humega®, yields could increase consistently each year over a standard conventional fertilizer program. In addition, by reducing their commercial fertilizer application, even with the added cost of Humega®, growers saved an average of 8% by reducing their commercial program.

Secondly, we learned that by reducing a conventional fertilizer program by 50%, and supplementing with Humega®, yields remained similar to the full conventional fertilizer program, but saved the grower approximately 33% in cost. From these results, we can determine that to achieve the best fertility rates, growers should reduce their commercial fertilizer program to 75% and supplement with Humega®. This would follow Treatment C.

However, the most agronomically and economically optimum rate for mature oil palms is achieved by reducing the commercial fertilizer program by 50% and supplementing with Humega®. This ratio does cause lower yields, but the added cost savings to the grower more than cover the difference in reduced market value. This follows Treatment D. Whichever option a grower chooses, they are still working to repair soils, and sustain oil palm cultivation for future generations.

Yield collection was done based on the estate practices and under the estate and research and development staff supervision (see list of conductors to the right). For trial 1 yield data was gathered from 1999 – 2005 and from 2001 – 2005 for the second trial.

Graph 1 | Cost Comparison shows the cost savings for BioFlora® treatments B, C, and D. To show where growers can achieve the most cost savings by reducing their conventional fertilizer program and supplementing with Humega®. Savings were highest when using Treatment D.