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Co-op sells its 120-year-old farming operation to shore up investments

Telford | News | Published:

The Co-operative Group's farming business, which it started in Shropshire nearly 120 years ago, has been sold for £249 million.

The Wellcome Trust has bought the estates, which began with a single site at Roden between Telford and Shrewsbury in 1896.

It now constitutes 39,533 acres of land, 15 farms including three pack houses, more than 100 residential properties and 27 commercial properties, and will be renamed Farmcare Trading Ltd. It does not include any farms in Shropshire.

It is the latest attempt by the society to shore up its finances after the scandal around its banking arm last year, and brings down the curtain on its century-old operations in ethics-led farming.

It follows the sale of the Co-op's pharmacies division for £620 million last month, and leaves it focusing on a core estate of supermarkets, funeral homes, insurance and legal services.

Danny Truell, chief investment officer of the Wellcome Trust, said: "The Wellcome Trust has a strong track record as a long-term investor which values responsible stewardship over quick profits, with extensive and successful UK interests in property and farmland.

"We believe that we are ideally placed to develop and grow the Co-operative Group's farms and farm business while providing continuity, and we are delighted to have acquired them in what will be one of the largest global deals of its kind."

The Wellcome Trust, whose charity focuses on human and animal health, has £1.8bn of property investments.

The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) bought the Roden farm with the primary purpose of growing potatoes and other crops for local Co-operative Society food stores. The 714 acres that formed the Roden estate were purchased for £30,000, a large investment at that time, which translates to more than £3 million today.

Richard Pennycook, interim group chief executive of The Co-op, added: "The successful sale of our farms business is another important development for group.

"The sale proceeds will enable us to further reduce our debt and progress with the delivery of the clear strategic plans we have in place for our core retail and consumer services' divisions."

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