FOR the first time a sizeable town is considering mounting a community buyout of a working farm in one of Scotland's richest agricultural areas and ministers are already involved.

A public meeting has been held in Blairgowrie in Perthshire which set up a steering group this week to explore the possibility of purchasing the 850 acre Rosemount Farm. It lies on the town's south eastern periphery in the famed fruit growing region of Strathmore.

It is one of the 15 farms, five in Scotland, currently being sold by the Co-operative Group across Britain to address the £1.5 billion black hole in its accounts. The Co-op currently wants one purchaser for them all.

It has owned Rosemount since 1952, growing the likes of carrots, cereals spring and winter barley, wheat and rapeseed. But strawberries represent the major activity with several miles of polytunnels. Around 250 seasonal workers are needed in June and July to pick them both in the tunnels and the fields.

Blairgowrie and Rattray, are separated by the River Ericht but form a town with a population of almost 10,000 which since the restoration of city status to Perth two years ago, is the largest town in Perthshire.

Locally there is concern that there had been no consultation with either customers or Co-op members about the sale of Rosemount.

Bob Ellis, SNP Councillor for Blairgowrie and the Glens, chaired the public meeting. He said: "The Co-op is seeking to sell of all its farms as one job lot across the whole of the country. Whether or not they would allow a buyout of Rosemount separately, I don't know. So it wouldn't be right for me to say anything more just now.

"But there certainly is interest in exploring a community buyout. That was the majority opinion of the meeting which had about 65 or so."

He said the steering group would meet next week to discuss strategy.

Local dentist Wendy McCombes is one of the co-ordinators. She said there was clear local support for investigating a community buyout.

"It looks as though other communities near Co-op farms, might be thinking the same way, so we will make contact," she said.

Another who attended the meeting was the Finance Secretary John Swinney who lives near Blairgowrie and is the local MSP. His cabinet colleague Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has also been briefed.

He told the Herald: "I am aware of the proposals for a community buyout of the Rosemount Farm near Blairgowrie and have relayed these to the Co-operative Group's director of farm business. His initial response was that they plan to sell the whole farm business as a going concern as they think that detaching any part would have an impact on the value of the business.

"However, I have a great deal of sympathy for the aims and objectives of people who believe we should diversify the ownership of agricultural land.

"Scottish Government officials are in regular contact with the Co-Operative Group as well as community members seeking to purchase Rosemount, and we will certainly convey to the Co-operative Group the points which those involved in the campaign are making."

Although Rosemount's area is a fraction of the large community buyouts in the Highlands and Islands, its value would be likely to dwarf the £4.5 million paid for the 90,000 acres South Uist Estates in 2006, the most expensive community buyout to date.

Values ranging from £6 million to £16 million have been mooted for Rosemount, according to local sources.

The other Co-op farms in Scotland are at Monymusk in Aberdeenshire, Duns in Berwickshire and at Carnoustie and Longforgan near Dundee.