The decision by Charles Baker, a well-known UK farming contractor, to step back from the business saw the machines and equipment he had accumulated over the years sell for a total of £3.1 million earlier this month.

Charles Baker Oxfordshire
Charles Baker is a former chairman of the NAAC (National Association of Agricultural Contractors) as well as being a guest speaker at the Oxford Farming Conference

Trading as R C Baker, Charlie, as he was universally known to those around him, had built up the business from scratch, starting in 1974 with a Ford 4000 and he was still running Fords when I personally worked a couple of seasons muck spreading for him in the 80s.

He had been in the business 10 years by then and had already gained a reputation for forward thinking and wanting to employ the latest techniques.

At home in the Cotswolds

In his home county of Oxfordshire, he was one of the first to bring the new breed of high powered self-propelled forage harvesters to the business.

Farmers were often in awe of the 350hp, or thereabouts, that these behemoths then offered, and it was kept busy in the early years.

Yet he was fortunate in his home area which was traditionally a prosperous farming region, even the Romans had a preference for that part of Britain, hence the number of villas dotted around the countryside.

Ford 4000
Charlie's Ford 4000 mowing what looks like whole crop barley

This prosperity and a prevalence of large farms and estates managed by well educated graduates was the ideal situation into which to bring new ideas, and a bright young contractor full of confidence and enthusiasm, as he was, was very likely to do well.

He also understood the need for a healthy cash flow and would turn down work if he suspected any issues with payment. A motley collection of horses in the front paddock saw him turn the car round on more than one occasion when going out to price a job.

This was not always the case with other contractors of the time who rushed out to buy expensive machinery and found themselves unable to meet the payments.

Stories of these outfits going bust were ripe at the time, but Charlie always kept the business on a sound footing.

Off to enjoy an easier life

After 47 years the time has come to sell up and take a well earned rest. He figures from the auction are testament to the effort and ideas he brought to the business over the decades.

Claas Xerion with tanker at work in the Cotswolds
Claas Xerion with tanker at work in the Cotswolds

The sale, which took place on Thursday, December 16 was record-breaking with £525,000 paid for a Claas Xerion 5000 slurry tanker, the highest amount paid for any second-hand piece of agricultural machinery at auction, according to the auctioneers.

Another unusual item was a 2017 Vredo 7028/3 self-propelled spreader which managed to bring in £425,000, while a 2013 Claas combine went for £126,000.

Self propelled sluury tanker
The 2017 Vredo 7028/3 self-propelled spreader being topped up in the field

Top price for a tractor was £183,000 for a 2020 John Deere 7R330. £117,500 saw a 2020 John Deere 6215R leave the yard and the hammer fell at £117,500 for a 2020 John Deere 6250R.

The auction was conducted by Cheffins who noted that the sale is the highest grossing on-site sale to have been hosted by the company.

It attracted over 600 active bidders in total who took part online, by phone or at the sale itself.