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British Sugar says end of EU quotas is a chance to boost beet production

PUBLISHED: 14:13 20 February 2017 | UPDATED: 14:13 20 February 2017

The British Sugar beet sugar factory next the the River Yare at Cantley.

Picture: James Bass

The British Sugar beet sugar factory next the the River Yare at Cantley. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2014

The end of EU quotas could allow East Anglia’s sugar beet industry to ramp up production by 50pc and boost its already-significant role in the region’s rural economy.

Sugar beet harvest, north Norfolk. Picture: Ian BurtSugar beet harvest, north Norfolk. Picture: Ian Burt

That is one of the key messages in a report released by British Sugar to highlight the economic value of this “home-grown success story” and the opportunities to continue its development.

As the only processor of UK-grown sugar beet, the firm works with 3,500 growers, employing 1,400 people and supporting a further 9,500 skilled jobs – the majority of which are in East Anglia, where the lion’s share of the nation’s beet crop is grown and processed.

The report says more than £250m has been invested during the last five years to improve efficiencies at British Sugar’s four factories at Cantley near Acle, Wissington near King’s Lynn, Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and Newark in Nottinghamshire.

Meanwhile, collaborations with growers and scientists have seen beet sugar yields improve by more than 25pc in the last ten years.

As home-grown beet currently supplies 60pc of the UK’s sugar market, there is an opportunity to satisfy much more of the domestic demand when the EU’s production quotas are lifted in October.

Growers are confident they can increase production – as long as the government’s Brexit trade talks create the right trading environment to ensure they can compete with European beet producers and imported cane sugar.

Paul Kenward, managing director of British Sugar said: “We are one of Britain’s most globally competitive industries and we are ready to work with farmers, importers and government to design a UK sugar policy that allows our world-leading domestic sugar industry to continue to thrive.

“Over the past 100 years we have built a world-class UK beet sugar industry, contributing to local economies and communities, and benefiting UK plc.

“We want to achieve even greater success in the next 100 years.

“The future of agriculture in Britain is high on the national agenda and not solely concerning the Brexit negotiations. From 1 October 2017, EU sugar quotas are being abolished; this will be one of the biggest changes in the sugar sector since 2006 and offers the opportunity to increase the volumes our farmers can grow for us.”

Michael Sly, a sugar beet farmer with 1,600 hectares at Thorney in East Cambridgeshire, who also sits on the National Farmers’ Union’s sugar board, said: “We could grow enough beet for British Sugar to produce an additional 500,000 tonnes of home-grown sugar, depending on market conditions.

“That would clearly make the UK less dependent on imported sugar and would be good for rural economies as well as the country’s overall balance of payments.”

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