The Co-operative Group is willing to split up its farming business.
Co-operative Farms, which owns seven farms and a packhouse and manages a further eight farms and two packhouses, was for sale as a complete package for a reported £200m, but the Group is now considering bids for its separate elements.
A Group spokesman said: “Having decided to sell its farming business following a wider strategic review of all its businesses, the Co-operative Group has received significant expressions of interest and we’re committed to considering all the options with equal provision.
“This will ensure that we ultimately deliver the best solution, which provides both value for our members and a sustainable future for the farming business.
“Our primary focus is to sell the business as a going concern, which will create opportunities for our colleagues and look to safeguard jobs. This may be achieved through the sale of the business to a single buyer or by packaging the business up into separate parts.”
Among those expressing interest were community groups keen to keep the farms in co-operative ownership. Tillington Farm Community Land Trust was working up a £10m bid for the Co-operative’s 500-acre fruit farm at Tillington near Hereford, and a community group at Blairgowrie in Perthshire had its sights set on Rosemount strawberry farm. Both groups have now withdrawn their bids.
A volunteer steering group at Blairgowrie found the farm’s educational, environmental and amenity potential was limited, and that the project was too big for it to manage. Steering group member Alice Warren said the farm would require investment and diversification but its £12m price tag meant maintaining polytunnel strawberry cultivation for the multiple retailer market, a model which was unpopular with locals and had few green credentials.
“Turning this farm into one that benefits the community, and meets with our desire to support new entrants or to make a significant contribution to the local food economy, is beyond the scope of this group,” she said. “We’re disappointed but know this is the right decision.”
At Tillington, a £9,800 crowdfunding appeal to help pay for expert assistance in business planning and registering as a community benefit society raised £9,162 in its first four days. But following a site meeting, the group came to a similar conclusion to the Blairgowrie group. It is now withdrawing its bid and informing potential crowdfunders their money will not be used.
Both the Blairgowrie and Herefordshire groups will continue to meet and look to purchase farms in their areas.
“This has shown there’s an appetite for this,” said Ms Warren.