End of the road for William Sinclair

A long established agricultural supply trade name is set to disappear through receivership and subsequent sale.

Although William Sinclair Holdings divested its agricultural interests 30 years ago to concentrate on compost manufacture and horticulture, the business once owned significant UK trade businesses such as Sinclair McGill and L&K Fertilisers.

The William Sinclair business was established near Boston, Lincolnshire in 1850 to multiply, clean and retail seed to local farmers, adding fertilisers and other agricultural supplies to its portfolio over the next 50 years.

In 1920 it acquired 50% of Lindsey & Kesteven (L&K) Fertilisers, based in Saxilby in the same county (purchasing the remaining half share in 1978). In the early 1960s, J Arthur Bowers approached L&K to make his branded composts.

1970 saw the company buy United Seeds, a Lincolnshire-based group that included the McGill & Smith business. This led to the rapid acquisition of a number of regional seed businesses that were consolidated under the Sinclair McGill brandname.  

By the 1980s, the compost making was so successful that William Sinclair started a horticultural division, and moved to a 3.6ha site near Lincoln to create Europe’s largest compost making site. It was also decided to divest the agricultural businesses to concentrate on William Sinclair Horticulture – L&K was sold to Kemira (now GrowHow UK) in 1982 for £2.5 million and Sinclair McGill to ICI in 1986 (now a Limagrain brand) for £5.3m.

The Horticulture division continued to expand, purchasing a compost business in Cumbria from Zeneca in 1994 as the first of a series of acquisitions in this field and growing the wholesaling of horticultural products to garden centres and supermarket chains.

In 2012, the company paid £4.75 million for a large compost business at Ellesmere Port in Shropshire, and invested in centralising much of its production there over the next couple of years.  However, it appears his was a move too far – administrators were called in at the end of July this year, with receiver KPMG blaming the failure on “the cost of relocating the company’s principal operations to Ellesmere Port, and the dual-running costs incurred during this move”. The latest trading figures showed a pre-tax loss of £8.9m on sales of £18.7m, from a loss of £3.6m on £21.7m in the previous year.

The assets have been bought by Westland Horticulture, based in Dungannon in Northern Ireland, with sites at Alconbury in Cambridgeshire and Driffield in East Yorkshire – the former Cranswick Pet Products business making a range of birdseeds. Established in 1988, Westland also owns the Unwins seed brand and has established sites in Germany and Poland.