AN agricultural and engineering operator has “laid a solid foundation for growth”, despite seeing annual profits tumble, bosses yesterday claimed.

Carr’s Group says work to offset weaker overseas sales and a major domestic contract delay leaves it handily placed to pick up momentum in 2018.

The business, whose agricultural retail division has stores across County Durham, saw reported operating profit fall 38.3 per cent to £7.9m in the year to September 2, with earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation slumping 18.8 per cent to £13.4m on 12 months ago.

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Revenues were up 9.9 per cent to £346.2m.

Officials say the group was knocked by a tough year across the UK and US, with a recovery in British milk prices blunted by lower American cattle values.

The firm was also affected by a “significant” delay to an engineering contract, and “poor profitability” of other deals.

However, chairman Chris Holmes said the operator, which sells feeds, machinery, fertilisers and clothing from Carrs Billington stores in Barnard Castle and Spennymoor, County Durham, remains confident.

Pointing to previously-announced deals for engineers Staber and NuVision, the latter of which bosses hope will provide a stronger foothold in the US nuclear market, Mr Holmes said the picture was a positive one.

He said: “2017 was a challenging year, with the group’s financial performance impacted by external factors affecting the agriculture and engineering divisions.

“Despite this, the year was also one of investment and significant progress towards achieving our objectives.

“The outlook for UK agriculture remains positive with farm incomes continuing to improve in the nearterm and we continue to see a gradual improvement in US cattle prices.

In engineering, the difficulties in our UK business, largely caused by a significant contract delay, have been addressed and we expect to see a significant improvement in the year ahead.

“With the investments made in acquisitions and research in both agriculture and engineering, we have laid a solid foundation for sustained growth.”

The business has a further country store in Malton, North Yorkshire, with its estate stretching across the North-West, Cumbria and Scotland.

Carr’s also includes Chirton Engineering, based in North Shields, North Tyneside, which makes various machined components for the offshore energy sector.