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Sugar factories could close before farmers can harvest all their beet

Bad weather and wet soils have hampered efforts to harvest Norfolk and Suffolk's sugar beet crop in 2019/20. Picture: Chris Hill.

Bad weather and wet soils have hampered efforts to harvest Norfolk and Suffolk's sugar beet crop in 2019/20. Picture: Chris Hill.

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Sugar beet growers fear they won't be able to harvest all of this year's crop before the closure dates for processing - prompting a change of schedule at one of British Sugar's Norfolk factories.

The prolonged wet weather and soggy soil conditions during the winter have hampered efforts to harvest East Anglia's staple beet crop.

British Sugar has announced it plans to close its Bury St Edmunds factory on February 19 and Cantley, near Acle, on March 7. "It is anticipated that most, but not all, beet from these factory areas will have been delivered by these dates," said the company.

But the National Farmers' Union's sugar board (NFU Sugar) has expressed "strong concerns" about not being able to lift all the beet in time, particularly given the factory closure dates and weather-related delays in harvesting.

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In response, British Sugar has agreed to reduce the slice rate at its west Norfolk factory in Wissington between now until the end of campaign, extending the harvest period by one week to allow additional time to lift any remaining beet.

A statement from the company says: "This will allow Cantley and Bury growers to deliver any beet not able to be delivered before their respective factory close dates while minimising the additional transport costs.

"Reallocation of Wissington delivery schedules will be completed to take account of this change.

"British Sugar's provisional estimate, based on the revised factory throughput and information supplied by growers and hauliers, indicates that if all beet is lifted and delivered, the weighbridges at Wissington will close to sugar beet intake on March 19. However, this date may be updated depending on circumstances at the relevant time.

"We will keep growers updated on any changes to these plans as we approach the end of campaign."

British Sugar' fourth factory at Newark in Nottinghamshire, remains open and there are plans in place for a slightly later closing date, estimated as April 4.

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