Wellcome result for Co-op
The Co-operative Group has sold its farm business to the Wellcome Trust for £249m. This is indeed a welcome result as it ensures a benevolent owner for the business which takes a long-term view and shares many of the ethical standards of the Co-op. As Danny Truell, its chief investment officer, put it, the trust values 'responsible stewardship over quick profits'.
Dedicated to driving improvements in human and animal health, the trust is the world's second highest spending charitable foundation. In effect, they function as another research council for the UK. I have had some loose association with their veterinary work and I have been favourably impressed.
The trust already has significant agricultural holdings in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Cheshire. It rarely sells businesses once it has acquired them.
The Co-op estate is made up of nearly 40,000 acres of land, 15 farms, three pack houses, and almost 130 residential and commercial properties. Its apple orchards at Tillington in Herefordshire were purchased in 2008, thereby preserving more than 1,000 rare varieties of British apples that were threatened with extinction.
This is one of Britain's largest land sales in decades and one of the largest global deals of its kind. It ends an association between the troubled Co-op and agriculture that dates back more than 100 years.