102 years after they began farming at Coldham, Co-op announces sale of its 3,800 acre estate in wake of banking scandal

PUBLISHED: 15:10 26 February 2014 | UPDATED: 15:10 26 February 2014

Defra team visits The Co-operative's Coldham farm. left: Lord Jim Knight, the opposition spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; David Watson, The Co-operative Farms' Head of Arable Operations; Tom Paybody, The Co-operative's Farm Manager at Coldham; and Gavin Shuker MP, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Defra team visits The Co-operative's Coldham farm. left: Lord Jim Knight, the opposition spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; David Watson, The Co-operative Farms' Head of Arable Operations; Tom Paybody, The Co-operative's Farm Manager at Coldham; and Gavin Shuker MP, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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The Co-operative group is to sell its 3,800 acre estate in Fenland- together with 14 other farms totalling 50,000 acres- following publication of “pretty ugly” results by its banking division.

Christine Tacon, Managing Director of Co-operative Farms, Poul Christensen, Chair of Natural England and Jim Paice, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, examining ELS field margins at The Co-operative’s Coldham Farm. The Co-operative Group’s wind farm can be seen in the background. Christine Tacon, Managing Director of Co-operative Farms, Poul Christensen, Chair of Natural England and Jim Paice, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, examining ELS field margins at The Co-operative’s Coldham Farm. The Co-operative Group’s wind farm can be seen in the background.

With farm land in the Fens and West Norfolk currently fetching up to £10,000 an acre it could command a price tag of up to £40m.

Chief executive Euan Sutherland said today the Co-op had decided that its farms “are non core” and would be sold.

The decision follows substantial losses last year by its bank – where it still has a 30 per cent share- which has been beset by scandal in recent years.

Mr Sutherland made the “pretty ugly” remark in an interview last week but will wait until the end of March before confirming group losses later which the BBC has predicted will be £2bn.

Coldham co-op Wind farm opening, Children from All Saints Interchurch Primary school County rd March on a tour of the windfarm. Coldham co-op Wind farm opening, Children from All Saints Interchurch Primary school County rd March on a tour of the windfarm.

The bank losses follow the Co-op’s ill fated merger with the Britannia Building Society five years which contributed to a first half loss last year of £779m.

Mr Sutherland moved in last year to begin a turn around and now plans to consider the sale of other Co-op assets including its pharmacies.

The sale of the Coldham farm, however, will wipe away generations of history since the Co-op first acquired it 102 years ago.

Farm manager Tom Paybody said during the 100 year anniversary celebrations that the Co-op’s principles of “responsible farming, good land and people management and care for the environment” still applied in the 21st century.

The Co-operative Food's Pioneer potatoes are grown exclusively at Coldham. The Co-operative Food's Pioneer potatoes are grown exclusively at Coldham.

The Coldham estate near Wisbech centres around Hall Farm where a small team bring in extra workers during the busy harvest to grow onions, shallots, potatoes, sugar beet, beans, wheat and rapeseed.

Coldham has also become increasingly well known for its commitment to wind energy and created their first wind farm there in 2005 in conjunction with Scottish Power.

The farm also has a ‘green schools revolution’ education centre which encourages visitors to explore healthy living options and renewable energy.

However the Co-op is thought to only produce about two per cent of the food sold through its own store although in 2012 it produced a new range of potatoes.

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