• Sponsored by JCB
  • WINNER: Charlie Baker, R C Baker, Oxfordshire

Losing almost 70% of your business would be enough for anyone to question whether contracting had a viable future. But to use this as an opportunity rather than a threat takes grit, innovation and vision, three qualities Charlie Baker has in bucket loads.

Over 35 years, the family-run Oxfordshire business has built up a loyal 200-strong customer base and now cuts more than 2000ha of grass and maize silage and runs 1200ha of stubble-to-stubble arable, as well as offering a wide portfolio of environmental services.

But the sailing hasn’t been smooth. The mid-90s saw Charlie running two silage teams covering nearly 2800ha of grass and 1200ha of maize for 46 dairy customers. In 18 months, following the milk price collapse, this figure dropped to just seven.

But out of adversity comes opportunity, and Charlie’s forte is being able to spot just that. He restructured his business to take on more arable land and developed a comprehensive range of services for those customers who remained in milk production.

RC Baker now carries out everything bar milking on large scale dairy units, and Charlie is keen to explore ways to make the arrangement a profit-sharing one to improve efficiency, along the same lines as the existing arable arrangement.

Two sons Christopher and Steven now play a large part in managing the day-to-day running of the business, as well as having a say in future projects, such as the newly acquired Kaweco slurry injector, purchased to enable customers to keep up with increasingly strict NVZ legislation.

This is typical of Charlie’s attitude; you couldn’t accuse him of standing still. He was one of the first in the area to import a low ground pressure spraying rig, which was soon covering thousands of acres.

Although the core business will always remain with agriculture, he’s not scared of diversifying. Currently, 20% of the business, £700,000 turnover, comes from waste handling.

He’s also got the contract to spread all the digestate from a new anaerobic digestion plant north of Oxford due to come into operation next year.

A strong collaboration with the RSPB thanks to the purchase of a high capacity rotary ditcher for wetland management now accounts for a further 10% of his overall business, and he’s in talks to develop new machinery with manufacturers to enable farmers to comply with HLS schemes, too.

By embracing new ideas and technology and including customers in the process, Charlie’s business is a blueprint for taking both agricultural and environmental contracting to the next generation.

Charlie-Baker-main

FARM FACTS

  • 2000ha grass and maize silage
  • 1200ha stubble-to-stubble arable contracting, slurry injection, food waste handling, digestate spreading, agri-plastic recycling, RSPB wetlands management
  • 200 client base

WHAT MAKES HIM A WINNER?

  • Embraces opportunities to make business sustainable in the long term
  • Strives for agricultural and environmental best practice for customers
  • Involves staff in the business for training and development

SPONSOR’S VIEW

  • RC Baker are extremely worthy winners of this category. This family team, with more than 30 years experience, has displayed drive and determination in what can only be described as challenging situations.” Edward Roach, JCB

INDEPENDENT JUDGE

  • Charlie Baker and his family demonstrated a sound understanding of what it takes to create a first class contracting business. Charlie has put the effort in behind the desk and the tractor wheel over the years to get where he is today. Mike Simpson