The Co-op is selling its farming business for £249m to the Wellcome Trust as it seeks to focus on its core retail and consumer services.

Proceeds from the sale of Co-op Farms will be used to reduce the group’s debt and invest in its other businesses, which include grocery, funeral care, general insurance and legal services offers.

The Co-op’s farming operation consists of around 16,000 hectares of land, 15 farms, 100 residential properties and 27 commercial properties.

The Co-operative group interim chief executive Richard Pennycook said: “The sale proceeds will enable us to further reduce our debt and progress with the delivery of the clear strategic plans we have in place for our core retail and consumer services’ divisions.

“In the Wellcome Trust we have a buyer whose values are closely aligned to those of The Co-operative. 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 is the world’s second highest-spending charitable foundation that is dedicated to improving human and animal health.