2012 Farm Manager of the Year: John Baker

John achieves a careful balance of ambitious, progressive farming with the traditional values of estate policy for the in-hand farming operation of the Thoresby Estate.

Making the most of all resources, he has a solid track record of delivering balance sheet growth as well as profitability, alongside thoughtful development of the business. Managing risk is an important part of his approach.

John manages a complex mixed farming business with challenging enterprises on a wide variety of soil types. Being adaptable and open to new ideas is key, he says, with this aim helped by membership of a small progressive farming group that shares ideas and experience.

Farm Facts: Thoresby Home Farm, Perlethorpe, Nottinghamshire 
  • Highly profitable £4m-plus turnover business
  • 2,929ha comprising combinable crops, vegetables, sugar beet, maize, cattle, sheep
  • Extensive HLS grazing agreement and ELS
  • Collaborative sugar beet harvesting and vegetable marketing

The farm has hosted large-scale crop trials for about 10 years, allowing early decisions to be made about new varieties.

On John’s initiative, the farmed acreage has expanded by 500ha to 2,929ha in the past five years. His can-do attitude extends to the whole team, with staff encouraged to take on responsibility and to adopt a robust approach to health and safety.

More than 500ha of heath and ancient woodland is included in the Thoresby operation. Part of Sherwood Forest, this carries 180 pedigree Longhorn cattle and 300 Jacob sheep in an HLS grazing scheme. A commercial Mule ewe flock of 1,000 head, mainly on ancient river meadows, makes good use of crop residues and catch crops.

A recent decision brought outdoor pigs on up to 50ha of the cropping land. These will rotate to improve soil fertility, making better use of ground not quite suited to vegetables.

Winning Ways
  • Successfully managing risk in complex business
  • Consistently profitable
  • Involvement in social/public-facing activities
  • Good staff policy and teamwork

Cropping has been both broadened and intensified. Rotational changes have brought block cropping on to stronger land, improving efficiency and returns, with variety choice governed by likely customers and logistics.

Lighter land rotations, complicated by the water requirements of vegetable crops, have seen some crops dropped and others introduced to balance market risk and employ machinery and staff most sensibly.

Key investment decisions include upgrading irrigation and drying infrastructure while his straightforward machinery policy keeps things as simple as possible for a business of this scale.

John’s self-imposed rule never to try and outwit the market sees 60% of combinable crops sold forward once a reasonable margin can be locked in. Balancing the risk on the potato income, this suits both workload and cashflow.

“John scored consistently well on all judging criteria – most impressive were business strategy, financial control and farm results. Well-placed for the future, he has a settled and productive staff, sound marketing and environmental policies and innovative public involvement”
Francis Mordaunt Retired farm consultant

All field vegetables are marketed through producer organisation Sherwood Produce, where John is finance director.

He is proud to have a stable, settled team in a high-pressure environment. An annual harvest supper and other socials help strengthen the team, whose members are encouraged to get involved in public-facing events. Up to £4,000 is raised for charity by the annual Thoresby hay ride, while a four-day lambing demonstration on a nearby farm attracts 8,500 visitors.

Sponsor’s view

Claas logo“The finalists share a dynamic, energetic and innovative approach, using cutting-edge technology but at the same time respecting their environment.”
Lin Chilvers, sales promotion manager


Scott KirbyScott Kirby
Harper Adams University College, Shropshire

Scott’s bold decisions – doubling the acreage and cow numbers and including a showpiece AD plant – have transformed the college farm into a £1.2m, sustainable business with which he also juggles teaching and research demands.

Andy RankinAndy Rankin
Westrope Farming, Fenn Hall, Suffolk

Andy’s attention to detail, excellent staff and use of machinery and technology are evident in the high standard of the wide range of crops he manages on 3,550ha. He also collaborates in beet harvesting and benchmarking.

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