Settled on the farm after seeing the world

Evacuated to Canada at six-and-a-half, orphaned at 11 and selling tractors in Venezuela, Chile and Antigua in his 20s. You could say that Roger Raimes didn’t exactly follow a traditional route into farming.

Roger Raimes, of Manor Farm, Acaster Malbis.

Roger lives with his wife Jenny at their 500-acre Manor Farm in Acaster Malbis, between York and Selby. He took over the family-owned and at that time 137-acre tenanted farm in 1963 after receiving a cable telling him that the farm’s tenant had passed away. Roger had been setting up distributorships for David Brown tractors in South America.

“My family had farmed here since 1766 and the barn and other buildings all date back to that time and even a little before,” he said.

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“My ancestor John Raimes appears in pencil by name on some of the fields on a hand-drawn map of Acaster Malbis in 1763 showing the land owned by Lady Dawes. His name had been added subsequent to the map being drawn as we weren’t here until three years later. We also have a photograph of my great grandfather and his family pictured here in 1888 but for a number of years the farm had been run by tenants.”

Roger’s only previous experiences of farming had been studying for a degree in agriculture at Trinity College, Cambridge. On leaving university he had joined David Brown’s tractor manufacturing business in Meltham. He’d enjoyed some of his formative youth on a farm near Toronto but reckons neither this nor his degree were responsible for his decision to give up his globetrotting lifestyle, mixed with his passion for cricket.

“I could do my whole South American trip in about four-and-a-half months, so I would time it so that I got the cricket season in over here before going back out in September, then I’d be back for Christmas and out to countries like Mexico or Colombia in January.

“During the summer I played cricket whenever I could, for Hutton-le-Hole on a Saturday and Old Malton on a Sunday. It was a great life, but when I received the cable I came straight back, left David Brown and started farming. I took on Bill Dale, the man who had worked for the tenant William Gooding and we worked together for many years.

“At the time there were arable farmers known as ‘barley barons’ and I felt barley might work for me. We started with both wheat and barley. A friend in Doncaster then said I needed to grow potatoes and it turned out that our soil leant itself to easy harvesting. We didn’t come out with particularly brilliant quality but we were getting good bulk. I was then persuaded to grow sugar beet which also grew well.”

One of Roger’s prized possessions is his exercise book that contains a layout of every field’s crops for every year since 1965, plus the average tonnage yield for potatoes, sugar beet, wheat and barley. It’s a document that charts the progress he made over five decades.

“When I’d started recording wheat in 1966 I’d only achieved 1.6 tonnes/acre. In 1996 we reached 4.45 tonnes/acre.”

When Roger’s farm worker retired he entered into a contract farming agreement with local farmers Michael Wharram, David Kay and David’s son, also called Roger. The arrangement continued until 2008 when Roger (Raimes) took the decision to create a farm business tenancy agreement with Roger Kay.

“We put together a package that allowed Mr Raimes to carry on farming and control crop rotation and also allowed us to spread our machinery costs,” said Roger (Kay). “We now farm around 360 acres of this land under a tenancy agreement, with the ings land let off to other local farmers with livestock.”

Roger (Raimes) tells of the two big ‘adventures’ he’s had over land on the farm: “In the late 1980s there was an application to build a ‘new town’ of 4,000 houses on what was Acaster Airfield. We fought it for eight years and after two big public inquiries we beat those who were trying to get it passed. As a result of the decision one of the farmers who owned the bulk of the airfield land sold it to us. At that stage we started taking up the runways so that it would never be considered again.

“Our next big challenge was UK Coal. The Barnsley Seam runs through the whole of this area and all the way out to the North Sea. They got permission to mine and told us that as they were going to go under the river (River Ouse runs along the east side of Roger’s land), there would be disturbance and that any damage they caused would be paid for. The airfield land has suffered continuous subsidence that has caused enormous problems. All coal mining work stopped in 1998 and UK Coal went bust. We finally took some cash as settlement but it didn’t represent the full difference between arable and grassland.”

Roger was born in Scarborough in 1933. He and his elder sister were evacuated to Canada along with many other schoolchildren at the start of the Second World War. His mother died of cancer in 1944 whilst he was abroad and he recalls crying for three days when he was told. His father died of a heart attack within a year of his return.

“My mother’s brother was determined that he should look after us. He looked after me, my sister and my younger brother who hadn’t come out with us, and bought us a small house in Hutton-le-Hole next to the pub. We had a housekeeper and another adult family member who looked after us.”

After undertaking his national service in the RAF, Roger thought he might end up back in Canada working in forestry, but a chance conversation led him to getting in at Cambridge.

“I worked very hard to get my degree and paid my own way. I’ve always had determination and I think it comes from being without parents there daily to guide you. I knew I had to do everything for myself right from the start.”