Sustainable Oil Palm Farming / Types of fertilisers

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Download: Module 4: Fertiliser Application

Warning! Fake fertilisers are a common problem in many countries. Be careful when buying fertilisers, especially from someone you don’t know.

When buying fertilisers, stick to the following guidelines:

  • Buy from a trusted person;
  • Do not buy fertilisers that are extremely cheap or from an unclear origin (these are likely to be fake);
  • Check if the fertilisers are in good condition (i.e. dry, clean, correct colour);
  • Check if the bags look good and have been closed correctly with a straight stitch and the same colour thread for all bags;
  • Check if the soluble fertilisers (i.e. all fertilisers other than rock phosphate and dolomite) actually dissolve when a handful is thrown into a bucket of water. If the grains sink to the bottom and don’t dissolve after stirring the fertiliser is probably fake;
  • If KCl (MOP) or urea is dissolved when put in water, the water temperature should go down, so the water should get colder;
  • Check the smell of KCI—good quality KCl doesn’t have a particular smell.

Advantages and disadvantages of different types of fertilisers

The following tables provide an overview of the key advantages and disadvantages of different types of fertilisers on the market today 1, 2.

Nitrogen fertiliser

Type  % N Advantages Disadvantages
Urea 46 Cheap, easy to store Loss through leaching and volatilisation, acidifying
Ammonium nitrate (AN) 34 Little volatilisation, non-acidifying Expensive, difficult to store
Sulphate of ammonium (SA) 20.6 Easy to store Expensive, very acidifying, induces Mg deficiency

Phosphate fertiliser

Type  % P2O5 Advantages Disadvantages
Triple Super Phosphate (TSP) 45—47 Very soluble, effective, also contains 20% CaO Expensive
Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) 46 Very soluble, also contains 18% N and 11% S
Rock Phosphate (RP) 30—34 Inexpensive, effective, also contains 45% CaO Bulky, slower response, high transport costs

Potassium fertiliser

Figure 17: KCl, also known as potassium chloride or Muriate of Potash (MOP)
Type  % K2O Advantages Disadvantages
Muriate of Potash (MOP, KCl) 60 Relatively cheap, effective, also contains 35% Cl
Bunch ash 20—40 Cheap, increased soil pH, effective Cannot be stored for long, difficult to obtain for smallholders

Compound fertiliser (NPK)

Figure 18: NPK fertiliser with magnesium and trace elements (12-12-17-2 + TE)
Type  % N, P2O5, K2O, MgO Advantages Disadvantages

+ micronutrients


+ micronutrients

Easy to apply and easy to obtain, containing all required nutrients Expensive, less suitable for mature plantations

Note: Compound (NPK) fertilisers are usually most suitable for application in nurseries and immature plantations (less than 3 years after planting). In mature plantations, the balance of N, P and K in the compound fertilisers is often not correct, and in most cases it is cheaper to apply single nutrient fertilisers unless the labour costs for application are high.

Magnesium fertiliser

Type  % MgO Advantages Disadvantages
Kieserite 26 More soluble, also contains 23% S Expensive
Langbeinite 18 More soluble, also contains 22% K2O and 22% S
Dolomite 10—18 Reduces soil acidity, also contains ~ 30% CaO Insoluble, only useful on very acid soils 1, 2

Boron fertiliser

Type  % B Advantages Disadvantages
Borax 11.3 Effective Expensive

Copper and zinc fertiliser 3

Type  % Cu / Zn Advantages Disadvantages
Copper sulfate 25 Also contains 13% S Expensive, difficult to get
Zinc sulfate (ZnSO4.H2O) 36 Also contains S Relatively expensive, difficult to get
Zinc sulfate (ZnSO4.7H2O) 22 Also contains S Relatively expensive, difficult to get


  1. I.R. Rankine, T.H. Fairhurst, Field Handbook: Oil Palm Series, Volume 3 – Mature, second ed., Potash & Phosphate Institute (PPI), Singapore, 1999.
  2. FAO, FAOSTAT Metadata/classifications/resources, in, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2013.
  3. International Zinc Association, Crops, International Zinc Association, Brussels,, Accessed November 20 2014.


The material from Types of fertilisers is sourced from Smallholder Oil Palm Handbook and put together by Lotte Suzanne Woittiez (Wageningen Universit) and Haryono Sadikin, Sri Turhina, Hidayat Dani, Tri Purba Dukan, and Hans Smit (SNV) in August 2016. See Module 4: Fertiliser Application for more information.

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