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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 02 Jun 2020

Submitted as: research article | 02 Jun 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Herbicide weed control increases nutrient leaching as compared to mechanical weeding in a large-scale oil palm plantation

Greta Formaglio1, Edzo Veldkamp1, Xiaohong Duan2, Aiyen Tjoa3, and Marife D. Corre1 Greta Formaglio et al.
  • 1Soil Science of Tropical and Subtropical Ecosystems, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, 37073, Germany
  • 2Institute of Biochemical Plant Pathology, Helmholtz Zentrum Munich, 85764, Germany
  • 3Faculty of Agriculture, Tadulako University, Palu, 94118, Indonesia

Abstract. Nutrient leaching in intensively managed oil palm plantations can diminish soil fertility and water quality. There is a need to reduce this environmental footprint without sacrificing yield. We quantified nutrient leaching in a large-scale oil palm plantation on Acrisol soil with factorial treatment combinations of two fertilization rates (260 N, 50 P, 220 K kg ha−1 yr−1 as conventional practice, and 136 N, 17 P, 187 K kg ha−1 yr−1, equal to harvest export, as reduced management) and two weeding methods (conventional herbicide, and mechanical weeding as reduced management). Each of the four treatment combinations was represented by a 2500 m2 plot, replicated in four blocks. In each plot, soil-pore water was collected monthly at 1.5 m depth for one year in three management zones: palm circle, inter-row, and frond-stacked area. In the palm circle, nutrient leaching was low due to low solute concentrations and small drainage fluxes, resulting from large plant uptake. Conversely, in the inter-row, nitrate and aluminum leaching losses were high due to their high concentrations, large drainage fluxes, low plant uptake, and acidic pH. In the frond-stacked area, base cation leaching was high, presumably from frond litter decomposition, but N leaching was low. Mechanical weeding, even with conventional high fertilization rates, reduced leaching losses of all nutrients. Mechanical weeding with reduced fertilization had the lowest N and base cation leaching whereas its yield and economic gross margin remain comparable with the conventional management practices. Herbicide weed control decreased ground vegetation, and thereby reduced efficiency of soil nutrient retention. Our findings signified that mechanical weeding and reduced fertilization should be included in the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture program for precision farming (e.g. variable rates with plantation age), particularly for large-scale plantations, and in the science-based policy recommendations, such as those endorsed by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil association.

Greta Formaglio et al.

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Greta Formaglio et al.

Greta Formaglio et al.


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Short summary
The intensive management of large-scale oil palm plantations may result in high nutrient leaching losses, which reduce soil fertility and potentially pollute water bodies. The reduction of management intensity, with lower fertilization rates and with mechanical weeding instead of the use of herbicide, results in lower nutrient leaching losses, while maintaining high yield. Lower leaching results from lower nutrient inputs from fertilizer and from higher retention by enhanced cover vegetation.
The intensive management of large-scale oil palm plantations may result in high nutrient...