Projects and Improvements

by Robert Cooper

Chapter 4

Next morning we all met in my office to discuss events. While talking, Det. Inspector Johnson called to say that the second guy had been singing all night and giving all the names at the meeting. They are being rounded up this morning and warrants arranged for them to be held on charges of 'conspiracy to murder'. Mr. Wilkins is being denied any visitors except for his solicitor. McMillan is still in prison hospital after his attack by other prisoners and has had no visitors.

Mr. Lang can put a new padlock on the East Gate.

Now I need to tell Sheldon that he is an Estate Manager and not a deputy. I called his mobile and asked him to come in to see me when he was free. I wanted Geoff. in on this meeting as well.

After lunch would suit us all. Sheldon came in looking very a p prehensive. We all sat down and I started.

"I have absolutely no complains about your work and your position as Estate Manager is secure but I think you are spending too much of your time working land, which is commendable, but you should be functioning more as Estate Manager

You are used to playing deputy but now have to take the next step to become the decision maker. Up to now you have been applying other peoples plans however inefficient. Now you need to use your degree training in modern working methods and review your cropping diary. Perhaps set an area aside for experimental crops and see what happens. Cereal crops are all well and good for high yield but they drain the nutrients when planted repeatedly. They don't bring in the margins that 'exotic' crops will and unless we try them we will not know what works on our land. Small quantities can always be sold through the Farmers Mutual. For crop experiments, specialist equipment can be hired in from the same source. We are a certified organic farm a nd want to avoid use of soil additives. Organic crops command a premium. What do you say?"

He said " I was reluctant to suggest any variation on crops and land usage as I had been told that the Manor dictated what crops should be grown. I should be delighted to try other crops and growing methods. We were taught at Uni. to innovate and try new crops and rotations to conserve the soil fertility. Whenever I suggested any such plans to Mr. Fields I was shot down and told to do as instructed. I agree that I have been stuck in the established pattern but I already have plans in my diary to plant some experimental crops and establish a programme of crop rotation as I can see already that the land is being leached out by constant planting of the same cereals season after season. Our margins may slip a bit until the new crops come into full production but this is a chance that I have dreamed of when I finished Uni."

Geoff said "I think that we can absorb a little slippage, we have been holding 12% net for the last eight years. While that is good in itself, the land will not take much more cereal before crop yields suffer. Fortunately we have become aware of this in time to make good the damage. What do you think of 'Green Manure' as a remedy? By the way, the Manor does not dictate what crops are grown. We have an Estate Manager to advise us. "

Sheldon looked excited. "I could plant a crop of alfalfa which is deep rooted and brings up nutrients from deep down, and mustard. Both of which are planted after harvest and ploughed in at spring planting. We should leave a time gap for it to rot down in the soil, both are a good replacement for chemical nitrogen dressing. Sow a good 'exotic' crop such as garlic, soy beans or lavender and see how well they grow. No lack of use of the land. There is a lot to be said for allowing a field to rest fallow for a season, seed with mustard to keep the weeds down and plough the whole lot in the following spring. I know that I could sell all these crops through the Mutual if we only try one field of each for a season. "

I asked "Is this what you want? Produce a plan and come and see us in the next week or so. We are due to start harvest shortly so it is an ideal time. Say three fields, one for each crop or more if you want to try other crops. Plant a green manure crop immediately after harvest. Don't forget that we have the leased fields as well so we have plenty of land to experiment with. Sheldon, you have our permission to try out your dream."

Sheldon stood. "May I appoint a deputy? I have one guy who is full time and doing his farming certificate on line so he is keen."

Geoff. said "O.K. Tell Mr. Watson who he is and his new salary. Show us your plan and get managing the estate."

Sheldon went off looking decidedly happier and more confident.

I looked at Geoff. "That is the result of 'always done it this way.' It stifles new thought and innovation. Now you know why I am allergic to that phrase."

Geoff. replied "Now we see a happier, more efficient Sheldon and hopefully an improvement on 12%. The Manor has relied on cereal crops for too long and the soil has suffered."

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