2020 winners follow up: Tom Rawson and Charlie Crotty, Dairy Innovator of the Year

Being named Dairy Innovator of the Year at least year’s British Farming Awards was a pivotal moment for Tom Rawson and Charlie Crotty of Evolution Farming and has helped propel the business on to further growth.

Focusing on people as well as their cows has proven a winning mindset for Tom Rawson and Charlie Crotty of Evolution Farming.

The company, which was launched by Yorkshire farmer Tom and his former business partner Oliver Hall in 2010, initially managed Tom’s own farm in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, and a tenancy in Lincolnshire.

In 2015, Charlie replaced Oliver as co-director with Tom, and at this point there were just four people in the team. Further management agreements in Norfolk, Cheshire and a tenancy in Leicestershire led to rapid expansion of the business over the following years.

Fast forward to 2021 and the business now has a workforce of 55, including a central office team which deals with human resource management, finance and a
contracting team.

Since winning the Dairy Innovator of the Year award at last year’s British Farming Awards, the duo has taken on a new tenancy in Brindle, near Chorley, Lancashire, and a contract farming agreement in Askham, Cumbria, and other opportunities continue to arise.

The business is now responsible for about 3,000 cows across eight different units, including two organic herds and one which is in organic conversion. The units vary in size from the 180 in-milk at Brindle, through to 700 at Houghton Lodge, Leicestershire.

It runs two Jersey herds on the Cholmondeley Estate, Cheshire, one pure Holstein herd in Cumbria, while the remaining herds run Friesian cross Jerseys which suit the system well, says Tom.

Yields vary across the business, with the Holsteins producing about 9,500 litres/cow, followed by the cross-breeds at 5,000-6,500 litres/cow.

The Jersey herds on the other hand average at about 4,500 litres/cow, but produce 1kg of fat and protein per 1kg of liveweight.

Tom says: “They are pretty efficient converters.”

Winning the award has been awesome for our brand. It has been really surprising how much it has raised our profile

Other measures of success include the six-week in-calf rates, milk from forage and the overall empty rate at the end of the breeding season.

The business’ arable acres produce organic wheat, barley, oats and maize, plus a pea and barley, mix which is used for wholecrop silage. Conventional crops are maize, fodder beet and a mix of 14 species used for outwintering dairy heifers and beef cattle.


Tom says: “Winning the award has been awesome for our brand. We are getting phone calls now from land agents asking us to look at opportunities. It has been really surprising how much it has raised our profile.

“I was already active on social media, but it has increased our following there too. Getting congratulated by banks and other organisations does not go  unnoticed.”

The business uses a ‘prescriptive’ business model for all of its dairy units, which are all based on either autumn or spring calving. This makes it possible to benchmark farms against each other to compare performance and employees are rewarded for improvements and high performance of their units.

Recent months have seen further investment in their Lincolnshire farm, the first tenancy they took on, with building work and other improvements being made to the unit.

Tom says: “It was that farm’s turn for a makeover. Mostly the improvements were to cattle housing; getting it ready for the next 10 years.”

Other major investments have been in machinery for Evolution’s contracting division, including a third forage wagon, another new tractor.

The contracting part of the business looks after tasks such as silage production, hedge-cutting, baling, cultivations and fencing, he explains.

Growth in the workforce has included two new members of the buildings team and five on tractors.

The office team has also been boosted and now has three full-time employees, including one person who looks after compliance across the business.

Overall, the biggest challenge to the business is the extremities of the weather and, in the case of 2021 so far, too much rain.

Tom says: “We just have to get on with it, particularly when the weather is good and the time is right.”

Covid-19 restrictions have posed some challenges, but Tom is grateful for his local authority being proactive with offering rapid flow testing for key workers from early on in the pandemic, which meant members of staff could be testing weekly.

He says: “We still have to travel and work. The availability of testing gives us confidence we were doing as much as we can to keep everyone safe.”

While it has been challenging, the pandemic has also brought some positives, says Tom.

“In a weird way, it has been relatively positive for our business, because our milk co-operative Arla has done a hell of a job developing its brands through lockdown.

“The subsequent 3ppl price increase has been very welcome.

“It is a lot of money for anybody and it is huge for us. I am well aware a lot of dairy farmers are really struggling with poor milk prices so we are very grateful for being part of Arla.

“It is a serious opportunity for us, hence why we are confident and prepared to invest in compliance and infrastructure.”


Further growth and development of the business and its workforce remain high up Tom’s list of priorities, with the company’s human resources remaining his focus.

By offering training and other opportunities for development, plus a clear progression through the company from assistant herdsman through to manager and, eventually, regional management, he believes the vision helps him recruit and retain the best staff.

Further expansion of the business is all part of that, he says.

“The reality for us is that if we stopped growing, some of our good people would have to leave. If we carry on growing, people can be promoted and there is room for more people to come on board.”

While growth is important, it is key that it is appropriate, he adds.

“If we push it too far, we can then steady it up a bit. If managers do not want to grow the businesses any more, then we can invest in training.

“We believe we are doing what normal businesses do, but not necessarily what other dairy businesses do. We have learned a lot about people over the years. It is a massive risk but also an opportunity.

“We are very aware that people need protecting and looking after. These guys work incredibly hard and many are young and away from home. It is a lot of responsibility for us.”

The care and loyalty spearheaded by Tom and Charlie saw their efforts recognised by the British Farming Award judges, who described their ethos and positive management of their staff as ‘truly inspirational’.

They were also commended for their ability to attract investment and take advantage of opportunities for expansion, despite the difficult financial climate.

Tom says: “I have entered a few awards over the years, but you need to be in the right place in your business at the right time to enter.

“Last year felt like the right time for this one. It has been great recognition for the team that we won. It means they can really get behind the brand and be proud.”

A word from the sponsor

This award recognises those who are brave enough to challenge conventional thinking and bring fresh ideas to our industry. As an innovator in feed, we look
forward to celebrating some of the most brilliant thinking, ideas and innovation in dairy farming today.

Our agricultural industry is under increasing pressure to boost productivity while lowering emissions. No doubt this is a challenge, but it is also a unique
opportunity for us in farming to take the lead in building Britain’s sustainable economy.