Beet growers angry over pricing offer

PUBLISHED: 09:37 15 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:01 22 October 2010

Beet growers are preparing for a bitter price battle with monopoly processor British Sugar on the sustainable future for the cornerstone crop of Norfolk farming.

Beet growers are preparing for a bitter price battle with monopoly processor British Sugar on the sustainable future for the cornerstone crop of Norfolk farming.

British Sugar's price proposals for the next five years have clearly angered growers, who attended the arable industry's Cereals event at Nocton, near Lincoln, yesterday.

Farmers' leader John Hoyles, who represents more than 7000 sugar beet growers, said that a proposed price of effectively £16.50 per tonne in five years was simply “not sustainable”.

He told about 130 growers that a four-strong negotiating team, representing the National Farmers' Union, would resume talks with British Sugar next week in an effort to thrash out a contract for future beet crops.

Mr Hoyles, who farms at Newton, near Wisbech, is chairman of the NFU's sugar board, and his vice-chairman is William Martin, of Littleport, also a former chairman of the regional sugar board.

The fourth man on the negotiating team, along with Lincolnshire grower Nick Wells, is a respected North Norfolk grower, Ross Haddow.

There was an evident undercurrent of bitterness at the informal meeting as Mr Hoyles explained about the state of progress of negotiations with British Sugar following the massive price in support for Europe's beet sector.

“Whether they're happy with us or unhappy is no concern of mine at all. You are the beet growers and I hope you're going to be the beet growers of the future.

“There is a particular sticking point on what happens to the minimum European beet price. By 2009, the minimum beet price is £17.50 per tonne. You've got to do your calculations of what it costs to grow beet and do them accurately.”

Mr Hoyles said: “At the moment we have been offered these prices - 2006 £22.67 per tonne; 2007 £19.91; 2008 £18.57; 2009 £17.50,” he added. When the real cost of transporting beet from farm to factory was paid, it effectively resulted in a price of £16.50 per tonne in 2009, he said.

“The only way to make it profitable is to let British Sugar know that you're not happy with that as a minimum beet price and they've got to put something more on that out of their profits, so that you can carry on. We want a sustainable industry that you can invest in and which will not be run down. I want you here in the long-term and to be able grow beet profitably and fairly,” said Mr Hoyles, who took over as the chairman in March.

“If ever there was a time to stick together and tell British Sugar there is not sufficient money in it, it is now. If you get it wrong now, it will be wrong for ever,” he added.

Mr Martin, who grows more than 100 acres of beet, said: “We are passionate about having a profitable sugar beet industry in the future. We're not passionate about a beet industry at any price.

“I want to grow sugar beet because it pays me to do it

and not just because I did it in the past.”

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