Varieties that tolerate low temperatures: initial experiences in the highlands of Costa Rica.

In 2006, two plots were planted in order to observe the behavior of four varieties of oil palm (Deli x Ghana, Deli x Nigeria, Bamenda x Ekona and Tanzania x Ekona) in low temperature conditions (highlands: Min: 16 o, Max: 28o C.) and moderate to severe water deficit (up to four months with monthly precipitation below 100 mm). In the case of the Bamenda and Tanzania origins, these palms were obtained in the highlands of west and central Africa and Ghana origin material has shown good tolerance to water deficit and low temperatures in several African countries. The two sites chosen are at 1200 and 800 meters above sea level, and they vary in weather conditions and soil types. For comparative purposes, another plot (control) was planted in the lower areas of the region (Coto). Field evaluations were initiated when the plants reached 20 months of age.

The general appearance of all the varieties at three years of age in the high zone is good, but precocity was lower than in the lowland zone (Coto). When the plants were 21 months old in Coto, they had an average of 4.8 female inflorescences, an amount the palms in the high zone didn’t produce until nine months later. Cumulative bunch production at 41 months after planting is significantly lower in the high zone. It is estimated that the yield ceiling in these low temperature conditions may be close to 20 t of FFB/ha/year, but this will be determined over time, and it seems clear that agronomic management might raise these expectations. The possibility of planting oil palm under conditions considered unfit for most traditional varieties and obtaining economically attractive yields is an important step towards expanding the agricultural frontier of this species. The Tanzania x Ekona and Deli x Ghana varieties in particular look very promising. We will keep you informed about the progress of these and other similar trials.

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Bunch production and general view of the plots (41 months of age) in a low temperature tolerance trial. Locality at 1200 meters above sea level.