Press Releases

Press releases from Countrywide:

9th December 2014 Sale of Livestock Feed and Forage, Arable Products & Crop Marketing businesses for £18.4m
1st December 2014 Leading rural business wins multiple industry awards
27th November 2014 Keep looking hard to reduce those Feed Costs more, it can be done
27th November 2014 Ewe nutrition: ‘precision pays’ says nutritionist
25th November 2014 Countrywide Farmers appoints new board director
3rd November 2014 New Welsh nutritionist for Countrywide team
15th October 2014 Countrywide Pet Event, September 2014
15th September 2014 Safety is Critical for Homeowners as They Prepare to Warm Up For Winter
11th September 2014 ‘Coals to Newcastle’ coup for Countrywide Grain
August 2014 Pick your moments….. Buying Opportunities if you’re looking!
August 2014 Great winter deals at Equestrian weekend
28th August 2014 Mild winter impacts trading results for Countrywide Farmers
28th July 2014 Leading rural business offers innovative delivery service to online shoppers
25th July 2014 Countrywide Farmers in export first
July 2014 'Back to basics' rebuilds dairy success
12th June 2014 Horse & Hound, Is your grazing damaged?
30th May 2014 Welsh dairy herd breaks into the premier league of top producers
May 2014 Just the jods...
May 2014 What can I do to minimise the impact of flies on my horse this summer?
May 2014 New FEC service – count on Countrywide
April 2014 UK equestrian specialists launch Forage Analysis Service
9th May 2014 Death of a Director.
7th May 2014 Liphook Countrywide and Denes Country Store saddle up together.
20th March 2014 Managing Acidosis at Grass.
6th March 2014 Countrywide customer in Wales one of the UK’s top yielding herds – article in Cow Management magazine.

Sale of Livestock Feed and Forage, Arable Products & Crop Marketing businesses for £18.4m

Disposals focus Countrywide on its Retail, LPG energy and Turf and Amenity businesses.

Countrywide Farmers plc (“Countrywide”), one of the UK’s leading suppliers of products, services and advice to the rural community, announces the disposal of its Livestock Feed and Forage, Arable Products and Crop Marketing businesses for a maximum total combined consideration of £18.4m cash, allowing Countrywide to focus on its Retail, LPG energy and Turf and Amenity businesses.

The Livestock Feed and Forage business, comprising compound and alternative feeds, fertilizer and forage seeds is being sold to ForFarmers. The Arable business, which sells crop protection and cereal seed products is being sold to Hutchinsons and terms have been agreed for the sale of the Crop Marketing business to Openfield.

The Countrywide teams within these businesses will transfer to the respective purchasers, who are all market leading in their sector. The Countrywide Board believes the acquiring businesses will provide long term stability and wider career opportunities for the Countrywide teams as well as supporting them with the best products and service for their customers. Overall the sale of the Livestock Feed and Forage, Arable Products and Crop Marketing businesses will affect around 80 employees.

The disposals will allow the Company to focus on its higher margin Countrystore retail network of 53 stores across England and Wales, and its Energy business, which supplies bulk LPG and bottled gas to the rural community. The Directors believe that Countrywide holds a competitive advantage in both these areas and that the two businesses have the potential to deliver long-term growth in shareholder value. The Directors also believe that the disposals are in the best interest of shareholders and the additional cash funds will be applied to drive growth in the remaining focussed business.

As announced in our Annual Report, published in August 2014 a strategic review of our retail business, led by Berkeley Partnership, has demonstrated a clear path for Countrywide to become the leading multichannel Countrystore business in the UK. The net funds received from these disposals will provide the financial resources to deliver this strategy, including the implementation of Project Fusion which will provide the operating platform to support this ambition.

We remain committed to UK farming, supporting our customers with over 7,000 agriculture products available in store, catalogue and on line, supported by a dedicated field sales team.

Commenting on the new focus of the business, John Hardman, Chief Executive, said:

“Countrywide is well positioned to execute our retail strategy and to grow the business into a leading multichannel supplier to the UK’s rural community. Focusing the business on areas where we have a leading position and where we can generate strong returns is a key part of our strategy and will allow us to deliver enhanced shareholder value over the medium and longer term. The business is now well financed to ensure that we can successfully deliver on this strategy and we look forward to updating shareholders on our progress.”

“I would also like to thank all the staff who have worked within the businesses that we are selling. We are very grateful for their contribution and I sincerely hope that they will thrive following this new step for those businesses.”

Walbrook PR Ltd Tel: 020 7933 8780 or countrywide@walbrookpr.com
Paul McManus (Media Relations) Mob: 07980 541 893
Paul Cornelius (Investor Relations) Mob: 07827 879 460

SHAREHOLDER INFORMATION

SHAREHOLDER CONFERENCE CALL – 11.30am, Wednesday 17 December 2014

There will be an opportunity for Countrywide shareholders to submit questions to the Board which will be answered during a conference call hosted by Nigel Hall, Chairman and John Hardman, Chief Executive.

The conference call will take place at 11.30am on Wednesday 17 December 2014 and shareholders can submit their questions via email to shareholder@countrywidefarmers.co.uk stating their name or the name in which the shares are held. Questions should be submitted before 4pm on Tuesday 16 December 2014.

The dial‐in details of the call are provided below:

Countrywide Farmers Investor Call

Date: Wednesday 17 December 2014
Time: 11.30am
Please dial: 0800 368 0649 (or +44 20 3059 8125 if calling from outside of the UK)
Participant password: Countrywide Farmers (please quote this to the Operator)

FURTHER NOTES

ForFarmers (Lochem, the Netherlands) is an international operating company active in the field of conventional and organic feed solutions for the animal husbandry sector. ForFarmers is the European market leader, with annual volumes of around 8.5 million tonnes of animal feeds, around 75% of which is in compound feeds. In addition to animal feeds for the cattle, pig‐farming, poultry and equine sectors, ForFarmers supplies trade goods for the arable and grassland farming sectors. ForFarmers also offers its clients additional know‐how and advice in the fields of nutrition, farming and business development. In 2013, ForFarmers recorded net turnover of € 2.6 billion. The company has a workforce of more than 2,200 employees and production facilities in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Countrywide outsourced the manufacture of its compound feeds to BOCM, now ForFarmers, in 2005. The transaction with ForFarmers is subject to clearance by the UK Competition Authority. The deal includes a long term supply contract for the manufacture of bagged feeds for sale through Countrywide’s retail business. In the financial year to 31 May 2014 sales of Livestock Feed and Forage accounted for £125m of group turnover.

Hutchinsons is a leading Agronomy Advisory and Crop Input business operating throughout the UK. Established in 1938 Hutchinsons continues as a family business with a strong commitment to customer service and innovation. In the financial year to 31st May 2014 Countrywide agronomy and combinable seed sales accounted for £6.5m of group turnover.

Openfield is the UK’s leading farmer‐owned grain marketing business handling around 4.5 million tonnes of grain every year and was formed in 2008 following the merger of Centaur and Grain farmers. Their clear strategy is to create unique supply chains and return value to their farmer members. Openfield is owned by 3000 UK farmers who commit grain to the business, and markets over one million tonnes of grain for Openfield Network central storage member companies every year. In the financial year to 31st May 2014 Countrywide crop marketing business accounted for £40m of group turnover.

Retained businesses

The Countrywide retail business is one of the UKs leading Countrystore businesses. The 53 stores and online shopping had a combined turnover of £90m in 2014. Key to the future success of Retail is ‘knowing the customer’ and our Countrywide loyalty card is the largest rural club in the UK with membership exceeding 145,000. The card allows us to personalise marketing and promotional offers to each customer segment which has increased the number of transactions per customer per year. As reported in the last annual accounts Project Fusion represents a significant investment in technology to help us fully develop our multichannel strategy to enhance and exploit our existing store network, infield sales team and on line shopping. Our Central distribution centre is also being developed to support these multichannel growth plans.

The Countrywide LPG business services over 10,000 customers in the Rural community with bulk gas and cylinders. The turnover last year of £20m was depressed by a mild winter; despite this we continue to grow customer numbers year on year, with an increasing number being sourced from our Store customer network. Cylinder sales continue to grow via stores as they are integrated into the supply chain. The customer base now benefits from a unique loyalty scheme which is linked to our Countrystores. We continue to invest in its storage and distribution infrastructure to provide the platform for further growth. The business will also benefit from Project Fusion as we seek to improve order and payment processes on line.

Turf and Amenity has grown sales to £3.5m, advising Golf course and Amenity managers throughout the trading area. The specialist sales team are backed by a comprehensive range of market leading products many of which are available for collection from a Countrywide store or online providing customers with more ways to buy than most competitors.

Leading rural business wins multiple industry awards

Over The Counter

Countrywide Farmers, leading supplier of products, advice and services to the rural community, has been recognised by the Over The Counter Awards for their excellence in Training, Customer Service and staff knowledge.

The Awards, held annually at the famous Café Royale, London, saw Worcestershire based Countrywide win four awards, and be highly commended in a further two categories.

Michelle O’Connor, HR Director at Countrywide said: “We are delighted to have won so many awards, notably the Training Initiative of the Year, Multiple store of the Year and Agri-Store Manager of the Year. Our commitment to delivering both excellent customer service and providing our employees with the knowledge and skills to grow their careers is core to our success and demonstrating value to our customers.”

Our training programme has been highly successful, and that has enabled us to win both SQP of the Year and Equine SQP of the Year. Without our employees’ dedication to customer service and their ability to pass on their knowledge to our customers, we would not have been able to achieve so much.”

The judges from Over the Counter said that Countrywide had shown a clear strategy for training, with defined goals and outcomes. This includes a bespoke training and reward programme for those members embarking on the SQP and Specialist courses. SQP status is governed by AMTRA, the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority, and Stephen Dawson (Secretary General of AMTRA) sat on the judging panel for the awards.

Countrywide has over 200 SQPs across all stores, who are able to provide expert advice to pet, farming and equine customers on animal health as well as highly trained and dedicated equestrian, pet and agricultural specialists who cover a variety of issues. To find your local store, use the store finder on www.countrywidefarmers.co.uk today.

Keep looking hard to reduce those Feed Costs more, it can be done

Colin Shepherd, Northern Commodities Manager, Countrywide Farmers

By Colin Shepherd, Northern Commodities Manager, Countrywide Farmers

Over the last 3 months we have seen spot wheat prices drop to just under £100 in places, and then rally to around £120 now for spot movement for specific homes. Hipro Soya has been on offer as low as mid £270’s for May to October 2015, but spot prices are still trading around £335-340. Very good opportunities have been available at times for the likes of Wheat Distillers, Rapemeal, Maize Meal, Wheatfeed and moist feeds. This is all about being open and flexible, taking advantage of the deals when they are on offer.

What to look for now with Proteins?

Cereals

Given another very good year for world production of cereals, Maize and Wheat in particular, forward cover needs to be thought through now for any energy related products. The market continues to move in cycles, we are seeing that now with milk prices as you are all too well aware. It will happen again with all feed prices. The trick is covering at a time when the market feels it has run its course at the low end, and putting sensible cover down.

In summary, in a difficult period for milk production, it is hard to pull away from the hard reality of supply and demand of all commodities. We have had unprecedented supply of feed commodities, building up over the last two years, leading to a situation of much higher stocks of both energies and proteins. However, do not be lulled into a period of inactivity, these lower prices will pull in demand from other sectors such as ethanol production. Therefore, look at your current cover percentages, and if you are comfortable for this winter then fine. But be aware of spot opportunities for products you may not historically use, if you need to buy over the next few months – good buys are out there.

Finally, keep an eye on the potential of covering product from May onwards next year. As outlined on both cereals and proteins it feels like we are close to the lower end of the cycle for both feed stocks. We would be surprised if the next two months will not offer some great buying potential for the 18 - 20 months beyond January 2015.

Ewe nutrition: 'precision pays' says nutritionist

Correct feeding and management of ewes is vital to ensure a successful lambing outcome. This is the view of Mark Hall, Commercial Nutritionist for Countrywide Farmers, who believes attention to detail and precision at every stage, from flushing prior to tupping, through to late pregnancy will be rewarded.

“Silage qualities in 2014 are generally very poor, but as always there is a large variation between farms. Supplementing silages should always be carefully considered, every year is different and feeding regimes should be adjusted accordingly,” says Mr Hall.

“The value of flushing or ‘steaming up’ in ewes should never be under estimated,” says Mr Hall. “Firstly, it gets ewes in the correct body condition score (BCS), of between 2.5 to 3.0, which helps to reduce any nutritional stressors on the system and prepares the body for mating. Secondly, it stimulates the release of insulin. Insulin is a very important hormone in the mating cycle in that it signals to the reproductive system that the body is in a sufficient nutritional state to ovulate.”

Insulin production is stimulated by the feeding of high starch compounds or concentrates and high energy lick buckets. “This is very important for the first 2-3 weeks of tupping as it is vital to get ewes cycling as quickly as possible ready for the rams,” continues Mr Hall. “Then 2-3 weeks into the tupping period feed concetrates can be reduced to switch off insulin production.”

Early and mid pregnancy – maintaining BCS

The main goal throughout early and mid pregnancy is the maintenance of BCS. “Now isn’t the time for ewes to be losing or gaining weight,” explains Mr Hall, “and ideally the BCS of 2.5-3.0 that has been achieved pre-tupping can be maintained throughout pregnancy. Care must be taken so that animals do not become over conditioned, which can lead to significantly reduced dry matter intakes at lactation. It is lamb development that occurs during this period rather than actual lamb growth so both energy and protein requirements for the ewe are relatively low at this time, not rising much above maintenance levels.”

Late pregnancy – preparing for lambing

In contrast, 75% of lamb growth occurs during the final 6-8 weeks of pregnancy greatly increasing nutritional demands on the ewe. Again, precision pays and scanning is a vital decision making aid when it comes to the partitioning of groups.

“Wherever possible split singles, twins and triplets into groups, to allow target feeding,” says Mr Hall, “providing less for singles, and more for triplets, to ensure that animals don’t get too fat or too thin and save on compound costs. Thin singles should be put in with twin lambers and thin twins should be put in with the triplets to allow a return to the correct BCS. Nutrition during this late pregnancy period is vitally important as it also governs colostrum and milk quality when the ewe does eventually lamb. Poor nutrition at this stage results in not enough milk being available for lambs and very poor early growth rates.”

The closer to lambing, the more demands on the ewe increase and, in the last two weeks, a final increase in the level of nutrition can be required.

Get the ration right

Mr Hall recommends that farms should always get silage or hay analysed and match the compound and feed rate to the forage, that way you are providing a balanced ration that meets the flocks nutritional needs in the most precise and cost-effective way.

“When considering which concentrate or how much to feed sheep, there is no such thing as the ‘best cake’ only the ‘right cake’,” advises Mr Hall. “The overall diet must be considered. There is little point in feeding the most expensive, highest energy density cake on the market at the same rate every year; if you are already providing your sheep with an 11ME, 15% CP grass silage. Not only is this expensive, but the sheep will become too fat.”

“Therefore it is crucial to know the nutritional value of what you are feeding, depending on silage quality it may even prove more cost effective to feed a high quality compound but at a lower rate.”

Given that cereal prices at an all-time low, the other option for 2014 is to utilise home grown or even bought in cereals. They can provide a very cost effective method of feeding ewes however when feeding high starch cereals it is vital to consider two key points; which protein source to mix with and how to avoid acidosis.

“Soya or protected soya is the gold standard for breeding ewes, mixing soya and cereals will give you an excellent mix that can be fed alongside silage,” explains Mark. “High Digestible Undegradable Protein (DUP) levels will support excellent milk production ensuring lambs get the best start possible. Failing this a high soya protein pellet can give you a more cost effective option if you are unable to take bulk loads of Soya in a significant tonnage.”

“Acidosis is an ever present threat when feeding cereals, compound feeds rarely reach 40% starch so can be quite safe in sensible quantities, cereal rations can be as high as 60% starch, bringing about rapid acidosis. If ewes are housed then plenty of fresh fibre should be provided and feeds should be split into small quantities that can be fed little and often. If lambing outside ensure there is enough trough space for all the ewes to feed at the same time and where possible try to split feeds into small amounts at regular intervals.”

Attention to detail and knowing exactly what individual elements of the diets are made up of at every stage is the key to tailoring diets to the flocks’ specific nutritional needs ensuring better returns at this crucial time of year.

Countrywide Farmers appoints new board director

Andrew Webb, Chief Commercial Officer, Countrywide Farmers plc

Countrywide Farmers plc has announced the appointment of Andrew Webb as Chief Commercial Officer to the Board with effect from 5th January 2015.

Reporting to Chief Executive Officer, John Hardman, Andrew Webb will be responsible for leading the exciting new strategy which will see Countrywide become the leading multichannel retailer to the rural community. Andrew brings extensive experience of the development and delivery of successful multi-channel experiences to customers in a wide variety of leading businesses including Equifax, Game Digital, White Stuff, East, and Carphone Warehouse.

Commenting on his appointment, John Hardman said “This is a really important appointment for the business and demonstrates our ambition to provide our customers with the best multichannel shopping experience. We recognise customer buying patterns are evolving and we want to stay at the forefront of these changing trends. Having previously operated as Chief Operating Officer at White Stuff and Chief Executive Officer of East, Andrew has over 20 years’ experience of growing retail and e-commerce brands, where he adopted a highly customer centric approach whilst focusing on loyalty and profit. Andrew's appointment coincides with the roll out of Project Fusion, a new technology platform which will integrate our existing network of 53 stores, in-field sales team, online, and catalogue shopping; it will provide our customers with the widest range of shopping options as well as driving efficiencies across the business.”

Speaking about his appointment Andrew Webb recognises the opportunity in the rural sector, “no one is dominating this space and Countrywide represents a real opportunity to occupy a market leading position in a growing sector. Drawing on the insight from the largest rural loyalty card programme it feels as if the business is on the verge of delivering a step change in service levels to the rural customer. I am excited to be coming to Countrywide to build on all the good work so far and to lead this multichannel implementation.”

New Welsh nutritionist for Countrywide team

Carwyn James, Farmers Apprentice finalist 2014, has been appointed as Ruminant Nutritionist in West Wales at Countrywide Farmers plc, the UK’s leading supplier of products, advice and services to the rural community.

Currently a finalist in the Farmers Apprentice programme being run by Farmers Weekly, Carwyn will be responsible for Ruminant Nutrition in West Wales, where his local knowledge and Welsh language skills will add value to Countrywide’s customers. He is undergoing the award winning Countrywide training programme which includes an in depth course at Harper Adams on dairy nutrition to hone his existing knowledge.

Having been part of the Fresh Start Dairy Academy and the Tesco Future Farmers Foundation, Carwyn has been pro-active in furthering his knowledge and skills. A fourth generation farmer, he farms in partnership with his mother and brother. The 300 acre farm, based in Pembrokeshire has300 breeding ewes and 70 Hereford sucklers, however Carwyn is also looking at diversification options to develop the farm further.

Mr James, said: “I am really excited to take on this role, like many in agriculture I know that there is a bright future and plenty of opportunities to succeed. I’ve always made sure to stay focussed, learn from those more experienced and worked hard. I’m looking forward to developing my knowledge with Countrywide.”

Speaking of Carwyn’s appointment, Alistair Folly, Countrywide’s Agricultural Director, commented: "Carwyn has the essential package that we look for in a new team member, he is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and has the support of his community; we are delighted to have him as part of the growing Countrywide team.”

Mr. Folly continues, “At Countrywide the recruitment process is important in attracting the right people. We are currently visiting with all the leading universities to showcase the graduate opportunities we have. However we would like to highlight that while a degree is desirable, we can see that talented young people such as Carwyn who have shown drive and determination and have practical experience in the industry can be just as knowledgeable.”

Countrywide Pet Event, September 2014

Coverage of the Countrywide Pet Event, September 2014

Safety is Critical for Homeowners as They Prepare to Warm Up For Winter

Householders and businesses that use LPG for heating are being urged to ensure all gas appliances have been checked and serviced as winter approaches, to avoid the potential for deadly gas leaks, fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

UKLPG, the trade association for the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) industry has issued the stern warning as part of Gas Safety Week (15-22 September), an event co-ordinated every year by the Gas Safe Register.

Rob Shuttleworth, chief executive of UKLPG, explains: “Every year thousands of people across the UK are diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning. It is a highly poisonous gas which can kill quickly with no warning and just one of the many reasons that gas appliances need to be serviced and checked every year by a Gas Safe Registered installer.

“It is vitally important to invest in proper boiler and heater maintenance, including portable LPG heaters that may have been stored in a garage or shed over the summer. Calling in a Gas Safe registered fitter to service and safety check your appliances is a small price to pay for the safety of your loved ones.

“Illegal gas fitters can put lives at risk, so always check the engineer’s Gas Safe Register ID card, and if you rent your property make sure you see a copy of the landlord’s gas safety record confirming that a gas safety check has been carried out within the past 12 months.”

Warning signs that a gas appliance isn’t working properly include lazy yellow or orange flames instead of crisp blue ones, black marks on or around the appliance and too much condensation in the room.

Audible carbon monoxide alarms should be fitted at homes that use gas appliances. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, collapse and loss of consciousness.

For gas safety advice or to find and check an engineer visit the Gas Safe Register website at www.GasSafeRegister.co.uk

‘Coals to Newcastle’ coup for Countrywide Grain

4,400mt of milling wheat exported to France marks a ‘coals to Newcastle’ coup for Countrywide Grain.

“It is very rare for France to import milling wheat,” says Grain Manager for Countrywide Farmers, Edd Britton, “and has only happened once in the last 13 years. This year a wet early summer in France has hit quality meaning more feed wheat and a lot less milling wheat, this leaves France struggling to meet existing commitments. We were able to upgrade feed wheat contracts and pay big premiums at a time of year when wheat is hard to move and premiums are under pressure.”

The milling wheat cargo which left Poole on 19th August follows Countrywide Grain’s first shipment in July - a major milestone for the Amesbury based team which was established in 2013 from Heart of England Grain and the SM Hackett and Son businesses, both already owned by Countrywide Farmers.

The Amesbury office has now exported 11,600mt at harvest out of Poole comprising 3,000mt of feed barley to Ireland, 4400mt of milling wheat to France, 2200mt of OSR to Germany and 2000mt of OSR to Belgium.

“This is an exciting development following so quickly on the back of our first export,” says Grain Manager for Countrywide Farmers, Edd Britton. “Securing such innovative opportunities, good, honest trading, and building strong relationships are all essential as we continue to grow and expand our business.”

Pick your moments….. Buying Opportunities if you’re looking!

By Colin Shepherd, Northern Commodities Manager, Countrywide Farmers

Since our last update almost all markets have seen significant falls in price. We have seen wheat drop by around £35/t and Soya drop by anywhere between £17/t to £50/t depending on the position. On the back of this, all other products have followed, be it rapemeal, distillers, maize, soya hulls or any raw material that a bovine can utilise!

Why has the market fallen so much?

The graph below shows current predicted increases in soya production over the past three years.

Given another very good year for crops for both Grains and Oilseeds, this year will see ending stocks increase significantly helping ease prices. The crux of it, and the question we get on a daily basis, “are we at the bottom of the market”, is difficult to answer with great confidence with a yes – we haven’t seen this weight of supply for a while and we are working through the potential scenarios here on in. But we believe the following advice stands;