July 21, 2020 / 1:05 PM / 13 days ago

CORRECTED-Sime Darby ramps up palm replanting with new high-yielding seedlings

(Corrects to 2,500 hectares from 250,000 hectares in paragraph 4)

By Mei Mei Chu

KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 (Reuters) - Sime Darby Plantation , the world's largest producer of sustainable palm oil, rolled out the replanting of unproductive trees with its new higher-yielding seedling which it says is 20% more productive.

Malaysia-based Sime in June announced its "GenomeSelect" seeds with a potential to increase output of the edible oil by 20% compared to its previously available best planting material.

It is now scaling up production of the seeds to meet all of its replanting needs within the next three years.

"We have already replaced 2,500 hectares of our older, lower producing palms with this high-yield material," David Appleton, head of biotechnology and breeding at Sime Darby, said at an industry event hosted by the company on Tuesday.

"We are going to continue planting 1,000 hectares a year of GenomeSelect, and move towards full replanting by 2023," he said.

The new planting material could boost production at a time when planters are pressed to optimise productivity and lower production costs to weather the coronavirus pandemic.

Sime said it also aims to sell the GenomeSelect seeds commercially to help other producers drive up their yield.

If the industry as a whole is able to double its yield, it could help meet increasing global demand for food without the requirement of any more deforestation, Appleton said.

Sime is also making its 10-year, million-dollar oil palm genome research publicly available for research centres and industry players to fast track their own studies, in a move it said could help the industry slow deforestation.

Palm oil is the world's cheapest and most widely used vegetable oil, and is found in everything from cookies to lipstick.

Top producers Indonesia and Malaysia have in recent years faced criticism for widespread destruction of tropical rainforests for the expansion of new palm plantations. (Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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