Beet growers want a fair price

Beet growers were in emphatic mood at Easton College that the crop will not be grown at any price.Fenland grower William Martin, vice-chairman of the National Farmers' Union's sugar board, told the 100-strong audience that the industry now has much more flexibility.

Beet growers were in emphatic mood at Easton College that the crop will not be grown at any price.

Fenland grower William Martin, vice-chairman of the National Farmers' Union's sugar board, told the 100-strong audience that the industry now has much more flexibility.

However, farmers "do not want to be growing just for the benefit of British Sugar. There must be something in it for us as well," he added.

"I'm concerned about our ability to grow sugar beet profitably. Clearly growing beet for prices below £20 per tonne is not on. A lot of us have felt in the past that we've almost been trapped into growing more than our quota because we were nervous about under-shooting our quota."


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Mr Martin, who farms at Littleport, near Ely, added: "If the processor does not want to pay enough for sugar beet, then they'll struggle to get enough beet to fill their factories up."

He stressed that the NFU will be making every effort to work for a profitable future for both growers and processor. But he stressed: "It is not about us saying to British Sugar, don't you worry, we'll run faster, we'll put our yields up, we'll take cost out, you can relax because we'll carry on filling your factories with beet regardless of what price you offer us."

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He said that British Sugar has made a proposal to surrender 13.5pc of national quota - as part of the EU reforms to reduce Europe's surplus sugar production by 6m tonnes.

As a result growers could be paid for the quota lost - which might be worth about £25 per tonne - but there was no legal requirement to grow the other 86pc of the crop in 2008.

Mr Martin said: "No, the two are not connected. You have to be eligible to grow the beet in 2008 because otherwise you have nothing to surrender.

"You may choose to grow it and I guess that most of us will, but you don't have to.

"We are determined that British Sugar will not be able to wriggle through and get you committed to having to produce something in order to pay for not producing.

"Please do not allow them to seduce you into thinking that you're going to get £23 per tonne for sugar beet next year. Perhaps you are, but I don't think so. If we are, it is because they're going to pay it and not because the Commission are going to pay it."

On the price front, British Sugar's chief executive, Mark Carr, said: "We've always had a very good relationship with growers and the National Farmers' Union.

"Regarding the short and medium term, we have contracts out there and those contracts are largely returned now. We expect these to be fulfilled next year, so there's no issue, I don't think, for next year."

Dr Carr did not think that the current high cereal prices will be be sustained in the long term.

"We believe that sugar beet will stay an important crop for our growers for the longer term," he added.

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