Beet growers reach bitter-sweet deal
A three-year deal for beet growers has been agreed after 11 tough sessions between the National Farmers' Union and monopoly processor British Sugar.Details of the inter-professional agreement, settled finally on Tuesday in Peterborough, will be posted to the country's 7,000 growers today.
A three-year deal for beet growers has been agreed after 11 tough sessions between the National Farmers' Union and monopoly processor British Sugar.
Details of the inter-professional agreement, settled finally on Tuesday in Peterborough, will be posted to the country's 7,000 growers today.
Wisbech farmer John Hoyles, chairman of the NFU's sugar board, who led the negotiations, will reveal full details at a briefing in London on Monday. Other members of his team, including deputy chairman William Martin, of Littleport, and Ross Haddow, manager of the Stody estate near Melton Constable, had nothing to say ahead of the formal announcement.
The IPA, the formal agreement between growers and the processor, is one of the most radical to be agreed, marking a major simplication of the complex rules on growers' contracts.
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The document, which should extend to just two pages, is designed to cut admin costs and achieve savings on both sides. British Sugar was equally keen for more transparency and to remove restrictions and disincentives on growing beet crops.
This could enable growers to concentrate on growing the strict quota tonnage rather than having to grow excess area. For years, growers have complained they have been in essence required to grow more beet than strictly required as a form of insurance to avoid quota cuts for non-performance.
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Mr Hoyles yesterday confirmed to the EDP that letters would go out today. "I really can't say anything at this stage, but we have got the best deal that the growers have got in the whole of Europe," he said.
It has been a central plank of the NFU's case that British Sugar must pay more for the crop and recognise the real cost of growing - and delivering - beet to its factories at Newark, Bury St Edmunds, Wissington and Cantley. It plans to shut Allscott and York after this year's campaign.
British Sugar, also under acute financial pressure particularly from cheaper imports and a sharp increase in energy costs, has moved slightly but did indicate a more flexible approach to price might be needed.
As one Norfolk grower said: "If wheat heads north to £100 per tonne or upwards, who is going to grow sugar beet and take all the risk?"
A month ago Mr Hoyles warned that a three-year cut in the EU's minimum beet price of £17.50 per tonne for 2009 was not realistic.
He also wanted recognition of the value of the sugar in the crown (top) of the beet, reckoned by the NFU to be worth about £1 per tonne. A beet price slightly above £20 per tonne may have been agreed.
Under the EC sugar reforms, prices are projected to fall to about £23.20 in 2006, £21.50 in 2007, £20 in 2008 and under £18 in 2009.
The transport allowance, which the NFU calculated was being subsidised by growers to the tune of about £1 per tonne, has been addressed. It is thought a distance cap will be imposed, thereby setting a more obvious ex-farm beet price.
Regional meetings(all 8am-10am) - August 18, East of England show-ground, Peterborough; August 21, Marriott Sprowston Manor Hotel, Norwich; August 22, Marriott Ipswich, Ransomes Europark, Ipswich; August 23 - NFU regional office, Newmarket. Call the regional office on 01638 672100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org