Wellcome Trust buys Co-Op’s farms

The UK health charity has agreed to buy the cooperative's farming business for £249m ($420m; €314m).

The £16.5 billion Wellcome Trust, a UK based health charity, has agreed to buy The Co-Operative Group’s farms business for £249 million ($420 million; €314 million).

The nearly 16,000 hectares of land will be added to Wellcome Trust’s existing agriculture portfolio; it owns three farm estates in the UK, and invested into Sapphire Energy, San Diego–based algae fuel company, in 2008.

The Co-Operative announced its plans to sell the farms in February as a part of a strategic review of all its businesses.

Along with the 16,000 hectares of land, Wellcome Trust has bought 15 farms, three pack houses, over 100 residential properties and 27 commercial properties in the deal, according to a statement.

“The Wellcome Trust has a strong track record as a long-term investor which values responsible stewardship over quick profits, with extensive and successful UK interests in property and farmland,” wrote Danny Truell, chief investment officer, in the statement. “We believe that we are ideally placed to develop and grow the Co-operative Group’s farms and farm business while providing continuity, and we are delighted to have acquired them in what will be one of the largest global deals of its kind.”

The charity has illiquid private equity and venture capital interests as well as directly held property investments which make up almost 60 per cent of its portfolio, according to the Trust’s website.

The Wellcome Trust is the world’s second highest-spending charitable foundations, dedicated to driving improvements in human and animal health. Its diverse global portfolio is managed by a professional team which is known for taking a long-term approach to investment, and for developing and growing its assets.

“In the Wellcome Trust we have a buyer whose values are closely aligned to those of The Co-operative,” wrote Richard Pennycook, interim group chief executive of The Co-operative Group, in the statement. “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.  The Wellcome Trust has acquired an excellent farming business characterised by the quality and professionalism of colleagues and high levels of customer service. I expect the farming business to continue to thrive under their committed long-term ownership.”