Sometimes you have to look back to move forward,’ the saying goes. It aptly summarises the new direction for Farmcare, the former farming arm of The Co-operative Group now owned by the Wellcome Trust.

With the dust having settled on the ownership change - announced last August - Farmcare CEO Richard Quinn this week set out his new 10-year strategy for the business. It contains all the top-line growth predictions one would expect, including a promise to increase turnover by 30% over the coming years (though he won’t be pressed on figures).

However, Quinn’s vision for how Farmcare will achieve all this is just as eye-catching. Aggressive growth targets in farming are often accompanied by calls for “greater efficiency” and “sustainable intensification”, but Quinn is advocating something rather different: he wants a return to more traditional mixed farming methods.

This means Farmcare will go back into livestock - specifically beef - farming for the first time in 15 years, and move to more extensive crop rotation.

“We are returning to the basic core principles of farming,” says Quinn. “We are taking a very long-term view of the sector. It’s about having the foresight and looking at the challenges ahead for the food industry.”

Farmcare will put beef herds on some of its land within the next 18 months, Quinn says, adding that the business still has infrastructure in place to handle beef animals. “It’ll need updating, of course.”

Livestock will play a crucial role in Farmcare’s potato business, for which Quinn has ­ambitious targets.

He plans to increase volumes fivefold over the next 18 months - from 26,000 to 130,000 tonnes - using Farmcare’s own land as well as third-party growers ­contracted to the business.

At present, about 25% of Farmcare’s own land is used for potatoes; this will go up to about 30%-35%. And bringing livestock into the rotation should deliver a big boost to crop quality, Quinn believes.

Falling in love with potatoes

Potato consumption has been falling in recent years, but Quinn is convinced more consistency and better eating quality can help address this, with more extensive crop rotations a key tool in raising quality. “We want to make consumers fall in love with potatoes again.”

Farmcare has dipped its toes into the branded market through some foodservice customers, but Quinn says he expects the mainstay of its ­business - particularly with retailers - to be on the own-label side.

More generally, with Farmcare no longer tied to just The Co-op (though it remains its main customer), Quinn wants to position Farmcare as a highly transparent partner for a range of retailers.

“Retailers want greater security of supply, and they are increasingly moving away from having trading relationships,” he says. “As a major producer and packer, Farmcare can offer new levels of transparency to retailers. We can show them the entire journey from seed to product - the farmer who grew it, what chemicals and how much water was used etc. It’s a powerful proposition.”

Quinn also believes there are opportunities for Farmcare to help retailers simplify their supply chains, particularly for top fruit. “There are still intermediaries controlling some of those supply chains, taking margin out, so we are saying ‘there should be an opportunity for us to do things more effectively’.”

It’s a tall order; the next 18 months will show if Farmcare can deliver on Quinn’s vision - and just how compelling retailers will find what the business has to offer.