Suffolk Show director Bill Baker looks forward to this year’s event
PUBLISHED: 17:21 17 February 2014 | UPDATED: 14:01 18 February 2014
I don’t need to ask Drinkstone farmer Bill Baker what he’s looking forward to in 2014. It’s the Suffolk Show.
He’s the new director of the biggest day out in the county’s calendar and he couldn’t be more chuffed. By Jayne Lindill
For Bill Baker, a second generation farmer whose great grandfather and grandfather were Suffolk millers, the opportunity to oversee the Suffolk Show for three years is an honour and a career milestone. At the same time he’s respectful of the enormous expectation people have from the two-day event and the responsibility to deliver a successful show. Fortunately Bill has a strong team to help him, many of whom he has got to know during the 27 years he has been involved in the show.
He started out as steward in 1987. “On gate 11 – the light horse gate,” he recalls. “I loved it, but I never thought I’d end up being show director.” In those days Bill had just returned from a few months travelling the world at the end of his agricultural studies and was establishing himself in the farming community.
His father was running the family farm at Elmswell and Drinkstone, so when a tenancy came up to run a sheep flock at nearby Haughley Park Bill decided to give it a try. He made a success of it, so as his father neared retirement, Bill gradually took over the reins of the whole farm at Drinkstone.
There was he said, never any doubt since he was a child that he wanted to be a farmer. “I’m doing what I love,” he says, although even he admits that the first two decades were difficult for him, as they were for most UK farmers at the time.
“There was a period when I thought ‘what have I come back to?’ The one thing that that kept me focused throughout was the Suffolk Agricultural Association. It was where I formed many friendships. It provided an opportunity to get away from the farm for a while and be involved in something that was forward thinking, forward looking and exciting.”
Through hard work and perseverance Bill did expand the farm from 600 to 2,000 acres – including four contract farms – he now cultivates, growing wheat, barley, oil seed rape and sugar beet.
And farming in the 21st century is, he says, an entirely different prospect – more efficient, more innovative, more market driven and more profitable. After the food scares, consumer confidence in farming has returned and retailers have woken up to the fact that it makes good commercial sense to champion British produce, the more local the better.
It is an industry he would encourage any young person to consider as a career, although it’s not without a very different set of challenges today. Technology has made the day to day job of farming easier, but the expectations on farmers to meet the increasing demands of global food production at prices countries can afford, plus safeguard the environment are considerable. Farming was never a nine to five, Monday-Friday job and persuading young people to consider a life in farming is never easy, but Bill believes part of the solution is to get across just what a diverse industry it is, requiring skills and knowledge beyond agriculture, such as technology, environmental sciences, engineering, sales and marketing.
It’s fortunate that farmers are held in high esteem by us, the consumers, thanks to a greater awareness of where our food comes from, how it’s grown and produced, and assurance schemes such as Red Tractor. But there’s still much to be done and that’s where The Suffolk Show plays such an important role, says Bill.
“I sense there’s a need to reconnect with people and local business and that’s something that as show director I’m keen to encourage. The county show sits in the middle of it all – it’s already doing a wonderful job of championing farming.”
When the show comes round later this year, Bill will enjoy every bit of it, from early in the morning to the moment the gates are closed at the end of the two days.
“I just love the atmosphere of the whole thing – the build up, the marquees before people arrive from all parts of the county. I love the social side of the show, the smells and sounds, horses hooves on tarmac, the beating of a hammer on an anvil and hopefully reports of slow traffic on the roads!”