Liquid Pollination Techniques For Cost-Effective Date Palm Production
In the Arabian Peninsula, date palm is one of the widest spread crops and attains great cultural, social, and religious importance. The total number of date palm trees in the Sultanate of Oman - the eighth largest world producer of dates - is estimated at eight million, which occupies about 49% of the total area under cultivation and 85% of the area cultivated by fruit trees.
The date palm tree is a dioecious plant, and its pollination is essential for the completion of date palm fruit setting for optimal production. Date-producing Gulf countries usually apply the conventional pollination process by hand. The process requires farmers to climb each plant during the pollination season to spread the pollen grains from the male flower into the female cluster and repeat the operation three times to guarantee successful pollination.
Date palm pollination by hand is expensive, time-consuming, labor intensive, and not risk-free, since farmers have to climb to, and stay at for some time, 21-23 meters for average date palms.
Within the framework of the ICARDA-led research project funded by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), "Development of Sustainable Production Systems for the Date Palm in GCC," a number of consecutive field experiments were conducted in different agro-ecological zones in Oman on date palm to standardize a new liquid pollination (LP) technique by assessing the efficiency of various pollen grains concentrations within the liquid pollination technique. LP technique is drying pollen grains, mixing 0.5-1 gm of pollen per liter of water, and spraying date palm trees with the mixture.
Once the best combination was established, the technology was demonstrated at farmers' field level. Following the success of LP, it was disseminated to various agricultural governorates in Oman through the extension specialists after conducting a series of workshops for training on the subject matter.
LP raises advantages of (1) Reducing labor cost and improving effectiveness and productivity of the used labor; (2) Reducing the quantity of pollen needed for successful pollination; (4) Reducing the risk of pollination during the peak period of flowering and (5) reducing the risk of laborers climbing accidents due to liquid jet equipment and a faster pollination process.
Based on the data collected from researchers at the Date Palm Research Center in Wadi Quriyat in Oman:
- LP improves efficiency, reducing cost by about 80% for the same fruit set rate.
- The reduction in pollination costs using the faster and more efficient (more trees per hour) LP compared to traditional manual pollination is about 89.05% and, consequently, a reduction in the total variable costs per hectare against those for manual pollination of about 56.48%.
- The net return for Omani farmers using LP was +674%, and the benefit-cost ratio is three times higher.