Depressed grain prices have affected even the biggest producers, with Co-operative Farms reporting a fall in profits for last year.
Reported figures of £4.2m are some 26% down on the previous year’s performance but Co-op Farms – currently the largest farming business in the UK – has ambitious plans nonetheless. By next year it intends to be supplying 25% of all British produce sold in its stores.
That target is particularly bold given that the retail business expanded dramatically last year with the acquisition of Somerfield, making Co-operative Food Britain’s fifth largest food retailer.
To achieve this, the plan is not to vastly expand the acreage farmed in-hand by the business, but to develop partnerships with other growers and producers.
“We are already growing in partnership with other farmers, and are looking to establish more, to help us towards our goal,” said Co-op Farms managing director Christine Tacon.
Currently the group farms some 24,280ha (60,000 acres) at 15 sites across the UK. The “Grown by Us” food and drink brand is attributed with much of the retail business’ success, linking the group’s farms more closely with its food outlets.
“At a time when food provenance is becoming increasingly important to people, we are the only retailer who can grow so much of our own produce on land that we farm ourselves,” said Peter Marks, chief executive of the Co-operative Group.