If there’s one group of people who are truly essential on so many farms, but who rarely get much publicity, it’s farmworkers. Yet they are some of the most loyal, hard-working and versatile staff in the land and many of them do prodigious hours at busy times of the year.
Phil Baynes is a great example of the sort of worker than any farmer or farm manager would be delighted to employ. In fact, he works for farm manager Chris Ascroft at Wilbraham Farms near Cambridge and has done so for an impressive 24 years.
Almost two and half decades sounds like a long time to be working on one farm. But when you hear Phil talking with such enthusiasm about his job you could be forgiven for thinking that he only started here six months ago.
Farm facts: Wilbraham Farms, near Cambridge
- All-arable 670ha farm
- Grows wheat, malting barley and beet
- All land ploughed, so heavy workload
- Just two people do all the work
In that time the farm has grown from 260ha to 670ha, plus a further 140ha of contract work. He and Chris are the sole workers on the farm, with Phil doing the ploughing, drilling and combining and Chris the bulk of the spraying.
Cropping on the light land farm is wheat, malting barley, sugar beet and canning peas, with 80ha of rape going in for the first time this autumn.
All the land is ploughed every year, a task that many farmworkers would balk at. However Phil says he is happy to spend long hours in the cab, provided it’s the best tractor for the job.
“He’s spending 18 hours a day in the tractor from harvest to mid-October, so the tractor has to be one that he wants to drive,” says Chris. “If we’re really busy, he’ll sometimes be on the tractor at 4am.”
That may sound extreme, but it’s simply an example of Phil’s extraordinary dedication to the job. And he’s still setting himself tough targets.
- Impressively scientific approach
- Good technical skills
- Unwavering enthusiasm, despite long hours
“I do find ploughing incredibly satisfying,” he says. “The biggest field we have is 50ha and my goal is to plough that in 24 hours.”
As well as being an out-and-out perfectionist when it comes to fieldwork, Phil has brought some science to the otherwise random business of buying a tractor. When the time comes for a changeover he takes the process of choosing the best machine for the job very seriously.
When the farm recently changed its main ploughing tractor, Phil had five makes on test on the farm. Each tractor came for two days and worked on the same piece of land and with the same implement to allow them to compare like with like.
He used 32 criteria to test each tractor, ranging from fuel use to build quality. So the final choice was a carefully considered one rather than the usual stab in the dark.
He’s a good technician in other ways, too, and is always keen to do the job right. Fuel usage is monitored carefully and things such as tyre pressure and ballasting – which are often neglected on many farms – are altered according to the job.
It’s yet another example of a worker who brings a thoughtful approach to the task, as well as technical skills and heaps of enthusiasm.
“Philip epitomises the very best attributes of the modern, 21st-century farmworker. He is technologically savvyand is dedicated and passionate in his role. His enthusiasm to deliver in a timely manner is most impressive, as is the quality of his work”
Meurig Raymond, deputy president, NFU
“This year’s winner shared many of the abilities of the new Isuzu D-Max – tough, dependable, versatile and happy to tackle any task and do it well – whatever the weather”
William Brown, general manager
Glebe Farm, Leadenham, Lincolnshire
Ian does the primary cultivations, drilling, fertiliser-spreading and sugar beet cultivations with skill and enthusiasm. He’s a perfectionist on maintenance and machine settings and great at finding ways to do a job more simply.
Norbury Farm, Ashbourne, Derbyshire
William is an amazingly versatile and well-organised worker with an absolutely key role in feeding cows and youngstock, organising part-time staff, ensuring the quality of feed in silage and maize clamps and liaising with the vet.
Keep up to date with all the news from the 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards.