Perfectly straight and symmetrical rows upon rows of rubber trees line the countryside in Thailand. Once they are tall enough, the trees are scored in a coil down the tree and a small bucket is placed at the base to capture the rubber as it slowly descends. This is called rubber tapping. There are latex vessels within the bark that contain the rubber. They can be tapped every two days and yield about 50 g of rubber latex.
It takes seven years for a rubber tree to grow so it can be used for extraction. Wild rubber trees can grow to be 100 feet but when farmed they do not get as tall and they produce rubber worth harvest for about thirty years after which time they are cut down and new trees are replanted. The logged trees are used to build furniture or burned.
The rubber from these trees is used to make first aid gloves, tires, balloons and condoms.
Thailand is tied with Indonesia as the world’s top growers of rubber trees and top global exporters, as well. Since 2011, however, there has been an increase in supply as Southeast Asian countries have swamped the market and many rice paddies in Thailand were replaced with rubber trees. Now, there is an oversupply and demand has dropped significantly and as such so has the price given to rubber farmers. For a few years the government subsidized the price of rubber but now the government is encouraging farmers to switch to Palm oil tree plantations instead.
Slowly, or not so slowly, palm oil plantations and exporting is taking over as a farming industry in Thailand. The success of the Palm industry in Malaysia and Indonesia have caused this shift of industry in Thailand. Additionally, it only takes about four years for Palm trees to grow to a harvestable age. Compared with the seven of the rubber tree, this is a much smarter business investment. The plantations are scattered now through most Thailand and while the industry is just starting, the demand for Palm oil for cooking especially in third world countries has experts predicting a demand that will triple in the next thirty years.