Farmcare unveils 10-year plan for former Co-op land

A move to mixed farming is part of a 10-year plan for Farmcare, the 20,000ha arable business formerly owned by the Co-op.

The plan includes £10m of investment in buildings, equipment, drainage and a change in rotation and enterprise mix.

Grassland and cattle will be introduced over the next 18 months on three farms run by Britain’s biggest lowland farmer.

See also: Co-op farms sold to Wellcome Trust

Farmcare snapshot

  • Farming business established by the Co-op in 1896
  • Sold for £249m to the Wellcome Trust in 2014
  • Almost 20,000ha, about one-third of which is owned 
  • 15 farms, three packing facilities
  • More than 200 residential properties and more than 100 commercial properties
  • Combinable crops, fruit, vegetables, peas, cider apples and cider production

On farms where cattle are not part of the plan, the rotation will be extended by introducing triticale, grass or other alternative cropping to tackle pests, including blackgrass, and to improve soil health, said chief executive officer Richard Quinn.

There were issues with the short planting rotations of recent times, he said.

“We need to improve the soil structure and start to build up reserves.”

Three commercial herds, each of up to 2,500 head, will be established on three sites at Goole in South Yorkshire, Stoughton in Leicestershire and at Coldham in Cambridgeshire. 

Breed has yet to be decided but the progeny will be finished by Farmcare, with Mr Quinn believing that, despite the pressure on beef margins, there is an opportunity for those who can produce beef at this scale.

In the six months since the farming business was bought by the Wellcome Trust, a further 200ha of land near Goole has been bought.

The change of ownership prompted a review, resulting in Mr Quinn’s plan for “serious growth” which is set to push turnover up by more than 30% in three years, to £85m.

“In thinking about the long term we have to get these things right – whether it’s on tenanted or owned land. We have to get the basics right and we can learn a lot form our forefathers on how they managed soil.”
Richard Quinn, chief executive officer, Farmcare

This relies on a mix of innovation and traditional practice across all crops to bring in 30,000t of additional production over the next three years.

Efficiency improvements were key to the plan, said Mr Quinn, who is looking to gain competitive advantage in every part of the business.

“It’s not just about growing cheaper – it’s about growing better,” he said.

Growth over the next 18 months also relies heavily on a fivefold increase in potato volumes, both from Farmcare’s own production and that which it buys in from other growers.

See also: Co-operative group shocks industry over farm sale

Despite the challenges of the sector, a £2.5m investment in potato technology and equipment is planned to improve packing lines and raise efficiency.

Farmcare – what’s changing

  • Move to mixed farming – grassland established and large beef cattle enterprises to be introduced on three farms
  • Rotation changes to improve soil on other units
  • Investment in drainage, storage, potato packing to raise efficiency

Further investment will go into grain storage to improve marketing flexibility and into intensive drainage and ditching to improve production efficiency. 

“In thinking about the long term we have to get these things right – whether it’s on tenanted or owned land. We have to get the basics right and we can learn a lot form our forefathers on how they managed soil,” said Mr Quinn.

“We can unlock increased crop potential through improved soil management but it does require a long-term approach.” 

Improvements will also be made to some of the group’s many residential and commercial properties.

More money will also go into renewable energy. The business already has two wind farms but the focus of further development will be on solar and smaller wind installations, where the power generated will largely be used on site by farm buildings or residential properties. AD has been under consideration but Mr Quinn he was not convinced of the argument for growing maize for AD.

Richard Quinn

Richard Quinn

The new ownership also brings the opportunity for the business to widen its retail customer base, something that was more challenging under its previous ownership, said Mr Quinn.

“Provenance is king for purchasers and only Farmcare can claim complete ownership of the entire process from sowing the seed to supply. This offers security, stability and quality.”

The business has 253 full-time employees and developing its careers structure and attracting people to the business is another important strand to the plan.

It is already a well-established provider of farming apprenticeships but unlike family farming businesses, does not have a ready pool of new recruits, pointed out Mr Quinn, who wants to raise the profile of farming as a career and as Farmcare as an employer.

 “We’re a commercial farming business and it’s harder to attract people in, but we can offer jobs not only farming but supply chain, packing and training in all of these areas.”

 Schools were still largely unaware of the skills needed for modern farming, he said. 

“We’ll be unveiling plans later this year to ensure that Farmcare is the career move of choice for the next generation of talented agricultural graduates.”

This would be a scheme offering opportunities to gain experience not only in the farming business but also in its wider supply chain, said Mr Quinn. 

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