July 29 2014 Latest news:
Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The Co-operative group is to sell its 3,800 acre estate in Fenland- together with 14 other farms totalling 50,000 acres- following publication of “pretty ugly” results by its banking division.
With farm land in the Fens and West Norfolk currently fetching up to £10,000 an acre it could command a price tag of up to £40m.
Chief executive Euan Sutherland said today the Co-op had decided that its farms “are non core” and would be sold.
The decision follows substantial losses last year by its bank – where it still has a 30 per cent share- which has been beset by scandal in recent years.
Mr Sutherland made the “pretty ugly” remark in an interview last week but will wait until the end of March before confirming group losses later which the BBC has predicted will be £2bn.
The bank losses follow the Co-op’s ill fated merger with the Britannia Building Society five years which contributed to a first half loss last year of £779m.
Mr Sutherland moved in last year to begin a turn around and now plans to consider the sale of other Co-op assets including its pharmacies.
The sale of the Coldham farm, however, will wipe away generations of history since the Co-op first acquired it 102 years ago.
Farm manager Tom Paybody said during the 100 year anniversary celebrations that the Co-op’s principles of “responsible farming, good land and people management and care for the environment” still applied in the 21st century.
The Coldham estate near Wisbech centres around Hall Farm where a small team bring in extra workers during the busy harvest to grow onions, shallots, potatoes, sugar beet, beans, wheat and rapeseed.
Coldham has also become increasingly well known for its commitment to wind energy and created their first wind farm there in 2005 in conjunction with Scottish Power.
The farm also has a ‘green schools revolution’ education centre which encourages visitors to explore healthy living options and renewable energy.
However the Co-op is thought to only produce about two per cent of the food sold through its own store although in 2012 it produced a new range of potatoes.