El Nino to cast long shadow over Indonesian palm oil output

23/03/2016 11:13:08


Palm oil production will rebound more significantly next season in Malaysia from drought-depressed levels than in Indonesia, where the dearth of rainfall may leave a long shadow over output.

Output of the vegetable oil in Malaysia will, after falling for two successive seasons for the first time on data going back 50 years, recover by 1.5m tonnes in 2016-17, on an October-to-September basis, the US Department of Agriculture bureau in Kuala Lumpur said.

The recovery - which would take output to a record high of 21.0m tonnes - reflects expectations of "favourable weather patterns", given the likely passing of the El Nino weather pattern blamed for dryness which has cut output in Malaysia, the second biggest producing country, and in top-ranked Indonesia.

The estimate foresees palm oil yield recovering to 7.62 tonnes per hectare, from the multi-year low of 7.22 tonnes per hectare set in 2015-16, while harvested area will rise by 100,000 hectgares to 4.9m hectares.

"Yield… will rebound as the weather improves in line with increases in [area]," the bureau said.

'Significant effect'

However, Indonesian output, seen in 2015-16 ending a 16-year run of uninterrupted growth, will recover by a more modest 500,000 tonnes, to 33.5m tonnes, USDA staff in Jakarta said.

And the bureau flagged a longer-term threat to Indonesian output from drought, which has exacerbated a trend of slowing growth in plantings also being depressed by land ownership "conflicts" and, until recently, weak palm oil prices.

"The 2015-16 El Nino phenomenon has had a significant effect on palm plantings," the USDA's Jakarta office said, citing information from "industry sources".

"Dry weather through 2015 and into 2016 delayed plantings, leaving little space in nurseries for new seedlings."

Oil palm seed sales fell by 9% last year - taking to 45% their decline since 2012.

While a return to more benign weather may encourage a "slight uptick" in plantings, growth "is expected to lag, as low seed sales in 2015 imply reduced plantings in 2017", and with trees then taking four years or more to become productive.

Exports curtailed

With Indonesia's own palm oil consumption rising too, backed by growing use of the vegetable oil to make biodiesel, the country's exports would in 2016-17 remain at 24.0m tonnes, below the record of 25.3m tonnes achieved last season.

"Industry sources report that projected consumption growth, fuelled by the implementation of the palm oil levy and Indonesia's domestic biodiesel programme consumption, will draw down available supplies for export," the USDA's Jakarta staff said.

The estimate for 2016-17 exports assumes Indonesian palm oil inventories falling to 386,000 tonnes at the close of the season, the smallest in seven years.

Malaysian shipments

Malaysian palm oil exports were forecast recovering by 800,000 tonnes to 18.0m tonnes in 2016-17, the second highest figure on record.

The forecast allows for a drop in Malaysian inventories to 1.50m tonnes as of the close of next season - down from a forecast 1.55m tonnes expected at the end of 2015-16, and a 2.64m-tonne estimate for the carryout from 2014-15.