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Mole Valley boss predicts bigger farms for future

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 16, 2014

THINGS ARE  CHANGING: Mole Valley Farmers' chairman Graeme Cock.

THINGS ARE CHANGING: Mole Valley Farmers' chairman Graeme Cock.

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THE chairman of co-operative Mole Valley Farmers believes agriculture in Britain is moving into the hands of bigger, and fast-changing, businesses.

He was speaking as the company reported its results for the year, showing its continued expansion through more purchases, record sales and a growing nationwide presence.

"I can't see it going any other way," said Graeme Cock, who is also a farmer, as the firm published its account of another record year, with turnover topping £400 million and assets now standing at £42.1 million.

"Agriculture is a changing place, with lots of consolidation going on and lots of businesses ceasing to function in their existing form.

"People are farming bigger areas."

Nearly three-quarters of the co-operative's activity is based among farmers, country dwellers and their allied businesses. It now owns 46 country retail outlets from Cornwall to the Scottish borders, and an array of agricultural supply units.

The enterprises, from feed mills and forage services to renewable energy and veterinary services, sold 14% more in the year to last September, making £6 million before tax.

The company has for some years advertised itself as the biggest rural retailer in Britain, but while some of its vehicles carry that title, Mr Cock said it was not a critical component of the brand.

He added that the healthy financial position was as much down to an expanding and loyal shareholder base, careful assessment of the markets and remaining humble despite continuing success.

"None of it is ground breaking, it's continual evaluation and adaptation," he told the Journal.

"We've got continual growth, 10% like for like and we're the largest farmer-owned business, but I'd rather people judged us by the quality. We try to be humble as a business."

As for the future he said: "I think the outlook is certainly better than it was. There are challenges as a result of 2012 when people got desperately short of cash, forage and enthusiasm. That's had an impact. Some fared better than others.

"There's quite a large gap between the best and the worst businesses and some farmers are really struggling while others are doing very well."

He said the move to bigger concerns was bound to happen as some farmers gave up and their operations were consolidated into other ones.

"The requirement for capital is enormous and there will be fewer and bigger farms. It's inevitable.

"There will always be an opportunity for niche ventures that can do a small amount of business with a decent margin and a relatively low cost base. But over and above that will be larger structures."

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