Spending time with your trees

It has been more than three years since this story was first published. Yet from time to time, people in the banking and oil palm circles take delight in mentioning Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng's tendency to serenade Tamil songs to his girlfriends --- oil palm trees -- at the estates.


As recent as two months ago at the Tan Sri Bek-Nielsen Foundation Lecture 2008, Sime Darby chairman Tun Musa Hitam acknowledged Tan Sri Lee's singing of Tamil songs has worked wonders on oil palm yields.

He then said he was seriously thinking of "asking the boys at Sime Darby to sing Indonesian songs to the trees too." That got the hallful of audience roaring with laughter.

I then thought back of that fateful field trip to Sagil Estate, Johor in 2005. Back then, I was still new to the palm oil sector and I had no idea what to report from field trips. I went up to one of my editors, Shahriman Johari and asked for his advice.

He looked up from his computer screen and told me in a straight face, "People have said Tan Sri Lee talks to his trees. See if this is true..."

And so I went along to the field trip with this unusual mission at the back of my mind. Throughout the 2-day trip, journalists and stock analysts asked Tan Sri Lee questions on crude palm oil price (CPO) trend, soya oil price trend, oil extraction rates, acquisition plans, company borrowings and forecast results.

When all 'serious' questions were asked, senior journalists and stock analysts made their way to the buffet tables, leaving younger and inexperienced reporters, like me, to face Tan Sri Lee in awkward silence.

After what seemed like five minutes of polite smiles and nods, I took a gamble and asked Tan Sri Lee if he loved his oil palm trees. He hesitated and looked around. I held my breath and thought to myself, "Oh uh... I'm in big trouble now."

To my surprise, Tan Sri Lee replied, "Yes, of course."

And the rest is narrated below.

One Response to Spending time with your trees

  1. A planter's job is to walk the fields everyday except days off. While walking in the fields, problems can be detected such as missed ripe bunches not harvested, harvested bunches and loose fruit not collected and brought to harvester's platforms, missed out manuring for certain palms in difficult areas, certain palms were under-pruned and so on. All these problems can be solved at site when planters spending time with their palm trees.

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