The Co-operative has pledged to do its best to protect staff at its farming business once it is sold.
In a letter to John Lamont MSP, the group confirmed all of its Scottish farming operations, which employ 84 people, are up for sale. At the end of February, the Co-op announced plans to sell off its “non-core” farms business, which dates back to 1896 and covers around 50,000 acres across the UK. It plans to sell the whole operation – including farming operations, pack houses, land properties and a variety of other associated small businesses – as a single business and as an ongoing concern.
In Scotland, this comprises Blairgowrie in Perthshire where strawberries, spring barley, rapeseed, wheat and winter barley are grown; a potato pack house at Carnoustie, Angus; and a broccoli and strawberry pack house at Longforgan in Dundee.
The group also farms at Whitsome Farm near Duns in Berwickshire, as well as carrying out various contract farming arrangements in the Borders and Aberdeenshire.
In the letter to Mr Lamont, the Co-op said: “Our priority is our staff and we hope to transfer employment contracts to new owners. Where this is not possible, colleagues will receive our full support in applying for or retraining for new roles.”
The group said the decision to divest its farms business would have no impact on customers, and it would continue to source British produce wherever possible.
It said: “We believe it is important that customers can be confident about where their food has come from and that our supply chain is as short and transparent as possible.”
The sale of the farms and pack houses is of great concern to the farming sector and a petition to halt the sale on a campaigning website has already been signed by nearly 7,500 people.
Scottish Green Party rural affairs spokeswoman Alison Johnstone has urged the Co-op to slow down its sale to allow community groups time to put together a bid for the business.
“This is a rare opportunity to bring some prime agricultural land into community hands, for the benefit of new-entrant farmers,” she said.
“Much success to date with community land has been in the north and west of Scotland, but it would send a powerful message about the future of farming if we took the initiative and kept the Co-op’s farms in public hands.”