Countrywide buys Heart of England Grain Co

Agricultural supply business Countrywide has bought specialist grain trader Heart of England Grain Co. The purchase of the private company for an undisclosed sum includes Heart of England Country Feeds.

Both companies describe the move as an opportunity, bringing a ready-made grain trading division with a turnover approaching £30m to Countrywide, best known for its feed, fuel and arable supply business alongside its growing retail operations.

Countrywide had been keen to get back into the crops marketing sector, said the group’s chief executive, John Hardman, who sees considerable growth opportunities in the arable market.

“The board felt it was important that as well as selling to our customers, we are prepared to buy back the produce. It also shortens the supply chain.”

Security of crop supply for Countrywide’s feeds business was also an important aspect of the deal. “We do a lot of bulk haulage and it will give us opportunities there,” said Mr Hardman.

Heart of England is based in Northamptonshire on the north-eastern boundary of Countrywide’s current trading region. The acquisition will broaden the two companies’ grower and customer bases, respectively. Both have also already set their sights on further expansion into East Anglia and further north.

Heart of England Grain, which trades about 250,000t a year, will continue to trade under its own name. The company was founded in 1982 by current managing director, Hugh Raby, and fellow director, James Stafford, both of whom will transfer to Countrywide, along with all of the Heart of England staff.

“We have been looking for some time for a business that has the vision, resources, geographic coverage and connections to substantially expand and grow the business,” said Mr Raby. The company had received various approaches in the past but had been very selective about where it wanted to go, he said.

“We are delighted to be joining a business that we believe will provide our customers with the products and services they need in an increasingly volatile and competitive market.”

The move follows the acquisition of 7Y services by Countrywide late last year and the group’s expansion into renewable energy alongside its wide range of technical farm services such as costings, soil, mineral and forage analysis to complement the inputs supply and retail businesses.

Countrywide’s latest results show an operating profit of £3.6m for the year ending 31 May 2010, an increase of just over £1m on the year. This was on a turnover of £206m, which was slightly down on 2009, mainly because of lower cereal and fertiliser prices. Countrywide has about 11,000 shareholders, of which about 6,500 are farmers, and employs about 1,000 staff.

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