THE UK‘S largest farmer-owned supply group – Countrywide Farmers – is back in the black, but any gains have been almost wiped out by increased pension charges.

A 16.7% increase in sales to £142.2m saw operating profits at the group rise to £1.4m for the year ending May 31, compared with a loss of £100,000 last year.

But after taking £1.3m of pension costs into account the figure fell to only £80,000, said chairman John Bush.

Most of the business‘s profits came from its retail and energy divisions. Agriculture recorded a loss of £200,000 after being hit by the volatile feed market and the brunt of the pension charges.

But shareholders‘ funds more than doubled to £40.2m after a revaluation of Countrywide‘s property portfolio showed a £21.3m surplus over its book value.