Sime Darby Embarks on First Planting of Genome Select Oil Palm

Kuala Lumpur, 25 April 2016 – Seven years after successfully decoding the oil palm genome, Sime Darby Plantation commenced its first large scale planting of Genome Select high yielding oil palms, a major milestone that will allow the company to produce more oil with existing land.

Oil palms selected using genetic testing tools to deliver higher yield in the field will be planted at two 50ha sites located in the coastal and inland areas.

In 2009, Sime Darby was the first in the world to successfully use new (2nd generation) technology to sequence, assemble and annotate the complex sequence of 1.8 billion chemical units that make up the genetic code of the oil palm.

President & Group Chief Executive of Sime Darby, Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Mohd Bakke Salleh said: “The Genome Select palm will significantly deliver higher oil yields without having to increase our hectarage. This is in line with Sime Darby’s sustainability commitment to increase yields from the ground, thus minimising green and brown field expansions.

Sime Darby chairman, Tan Sri Dato’ Abdul Ghani Othman shovelling earth for a Genome Select oil palm sapling as a symbolic gesture to mark Sime Darby Plantation's first commercial planting of the higher yield oil palm.

“Over the past seven years, we have applied our knowledge of the oil palm genome to our oil palm populations along with genetic testing and we are now able to select the best seedlings to plant and identify the best parental palms for seed production. Sime Darby has pioneered many innovations in the plantation industry and we are proud to continue this tradition with the genome project.”

The selected palms have the potential to produce at least 15% more oil than Sime Darby Plantation’s Calix 600, currently its best planting material. Under good growth conditions, the potential yield from the Genome Select palms can go above 11 MT oil/ha, resulting in average yields above 6.1 MT oil/ha across all environments in Sime Darby’s Malaysian plantations, compared to Calix 600 yields of 5.3 MT oil/ha. By 2023, Sime Darby Plantation will have enough genome materials to meet all of its Malaysian replanting requirements. The company has a replanting policy of 4%-5% of its land area in Malaysia annually.

Sime Darby Plantation Managing Director Datuk Franki Anthony Dass said the scientific breakthrough will help the company tackle major challenges in the plantation industry, namely securing new land.

From left Sime Darby Plantation R & D Head in Charge Dr Harikrishna Kulaveerasingam, Sime Darby Plantation board member Rosely Kusip, Sime Darby Plantation managing director Datuk Franki Anthony Dass, Sime Darby chairman Tan Sri Dato' Abdul Ghani Othman, Sime Darby President and Group Chief Executive Tan Sri Dato' Seri Mohd Bakke Salleh, Sime Darby board member Tan Sri Datuk Dr Yusof Basiron and Sime Darby Plantation board member Dato' Idris Kechot at the first commercial planting of the higher yield oil palm, Genome Select.

“As the world’s biggest producer of sustainable palm oil, we can produce more oil from the land that we have now. Our achievement in 2009 was just the tip of the iceberg and we are seeing the results today. We will intensify our R&D efforts to produce palms that are not just high yielding but are also more resilient to weather conditions and more efficient in terms of nutrition and water use.”

According to Sime Darby Plantation’s Head in charge of Research and Development, Dr Harikrishna Kulaveerasingam, Sime Darby’s R&D team in Biotechnology and Breeding has sequenced over 200 oil palms which were carefully selected to represent the diversity of Sime Darby’s collection. These genetic codes were analysed with the help of Sime Darby Plantation’s palm breeding studies over the last 20 years, allowing the team to identify the traits of high yielding palms. The team was then able to produce a formula to predict the yield of an oil palm using a genetic test.

A genetic testing facility was established in 2015 at the Sime Darby Technology Centre where the 80,000 seedlings required for the Genome Select planting were sampled, labelled and analysed.

“The future has never been more exciting. As we move forward, we will be able to do this faster and more accurately, which in turn means that we can improve our field performance with better trees,” said Dr Harikrishna, one of the world’s leading research authority on oil palm.
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