The Wellcome Trust, the bio-medical research charity, has bought the Co-operative Group’s farm business for £249m.
The trust said the business would now be known as Farmcare Trading and had been bought as a going concern.
Included in the sale are nearly 16,000 hectares of freehold and third-party-owned land, 15 farms, 100 residential properties and 27 commercial properties. The trust confirmed that all 250 employees connected with the business would transfer to Farmcare Trading and that nobody had been made redundant as part of the deal.
The Co-operative Group said the sale of its farm business would allow it to reduce its debts and focus the business on its core retail and consumer services divisions. The Co-operative reported debts of £1.4bn in April this year.
The acquisition will add to the trust’s existing portfolio of property and agricultural land, valued at £1.8bn in September 2013.
The Wellcome Trust does not fundraise for donations; instead it funds its charitable grants in the field of bio-medical research from income from its assets, currently valued at £16.5bn. The charity had an income of £281m in the financial year to September 2013, making it the 13th largest UK charity by income.
Danny Truell, chief investment officer of the Wellcome Trust, said: "The Wellcome Trust has a strong track record as a long-term investor that values responsible stewardship over quick profits, with extensive and successful UK interests in property and farmland. We believe we are ideally placed to develop and grow the Co-operative Group’s farms and farm business while providing continuity."
Truell added that the trust would provide long-term investment in Farmcare Trading "in good times and in bad" and that it sought to be a responsible landlord.
In March, a group of potential local investors expressed interest in buying Co-Op’s Rosemount Farm in Scotland, but it was included in the final sale to the trust.
Richard Pennycook, interim group chief executive of the Co-operative Group, added: "The successful sale of our farms business is another important development for the Co-operative Group. In the Wellcome Trust we have a buyer whose values are closely aligned to those of the Co-operative. They have a proven track record in managing a sustainable investment portfolio, the proceeds of which are used to fund improvements in biomedical science and learning."