Sugar beet growers in north Norfolk were in determined mood to secure a sweeter deal for the county’s cornerstone crop during a club meeting.

Michael Sly, chairman of the National Farmers' Union's sugar board (NFU Sugar), told about 50 members of Holt & District Farmers’ Club that the overwhelming majority of growers had pledged to support the union's negotiating team in its ongoing price dispute with British Sugar.

The company sparked outrage earlier this month by making a price offer to its 2,300 beet growers - while active negotiations were still under way with industry representatives from NFU Sugar.

Fenland grower Mr Sly, who farms at Thorney, said that surging global demand for sugar and high world prices supported the industry’s case for higher prices. And given the depressed returns in three of the past five campaigns, growers needed to earn a reasonable return.

He said that 1,100 growers had pledged support for NFU Sugar, which probably represented two-thirds of the sugar beet crop area. Mr Sly said that British Sugar had to recognise growers’ concerns, which were not just about the price.

North Norfolk farmer Andrew Ross, who heads beet reception team on NFU Sugar, stressed that there were ample supplies of quality seed available contrary to some industry claims. Growers should not rush to sign contracts because of concerns about possible shortages of beet seed, he said.

Mr Sly reminded growers, who might have already signed contracts with British Sugar, that there was in effect a 14-day “cooling off” period, and maybe they should check, and possibly take legal advice on, the small print in these contracts.

He also urged growers to contact their MPs to express their concerns.

READ MORE: Did you know about Norfolk's long-forgotten 'sugar beet' railway?

He stressed that NFU Sugar, which represented all growers, was the legally constituted body with the processor, British Sugar. It was in the interests of all growers, he said, to maintain a united front.

As such, it has now asked Defra to intervene and to seek to achieve a settlement of the increasingly bitter dispute with the processor.

British Sugar has said the "competitive" core price of £38 per tonne was offered because anxious growers had been calling for "the security of a contract" after months of talks had failed to reach an agreement.

A company spokesman added: "We have not withdrawn our offer and continue to remain fully committed to following the dispute and resolution process."

Two grower meetings have been arranged by NFU Sugar - at Newmarket racecourse from 7pm on November 29, and at Lincolnshire showground from 7pm on November 30.