Farmers in high level talks with British Sugar over rising costs

NFU Sugar board chairman Michael Sly.

Fenland farmer NFU Sugar board chairman Michael Sly said high level talks with British Sugar had taken place as costs mount - Credit: NFU / Tim Scrivener

Soaring haulage costs for delivering sugar beet must be addressed with urgency, says a leading grower.

Michael Sly told 40 growers at a joint meeting of East Norfolk branch of the National Farmers’ Union and Stalham Farmers’ Club that high level discussions have taken place with British Sugar.

Fenland farmer Mr Sly said that the issue of rising fuel and other costs had been raised with British Sugar’s agricultural director Peter Watson.

Simon Smith, vice-chairman of the NFU Sugar Board, which represents all 2,500 growers, told the meeting at North Walsham Rugby Club, that three hours of talks took place this week.

Simon Smith, vice chairman of the NFU Sugar Board Picture: TIM SCRIVENER

Newmarket farmer Simon Smith, vice chairman of the NFU Sugar Board, said three hours of talks with British Sugar have taken place - Credit: Tim Scrivener

Since the early spring, when many of British Sugar’s transport contracts were agreed, the cost of haulage to growers had surged, said Mr Smith, who farms around Newmarket.

Mr Sly, who chairs NFU Sugar, briefed members on the background to the latest negotiations with British Sugar. He reminded growers that the last campaign had been extremely difficult, lengthy and costly. In addition, substantial yield losses caused by virus yellows and other diseases had cost growers an estimated £43m.

NFU Sugar, which represents all 2,500 growers, decided to start negotiations much earlier than usual and started the process with British Sugar in March. In a diplomatic summary, Mr Sly said that the process had not been especially smooth but eventually a deal had been achieved.

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He said that a pilot variable price contract, linked to sugar futures, could offer the opportunity for growers to lock-in returns. Mr Sly said that it could become a more significant tool in future

Mr Sly said that beet growers (and processor) were now operating in a completely de-regulated market. He stressed too that the home-grown industry needed to retain scale to supply a large domestic market of around 1.9m tonnes of sugar – with roughly 55% of the country’s sugar grown by England’s farmers. There was a major opportunity to supply this market and he urged British Sugar to recognise the need to support growers.

He said that a meeting in June with ABF’s chief executive George Weston had been positive, who had emphasised his long-term vision for a successful home-grown sugar industry.

The speakers were thanked by branch chairman Peter Gardiner, and Stalham’s chairman, Chris Borrett, who presided at the club’s first meeting for 19 months.

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