East Anglia’s sugar beet campaign set to steam into action

Sugar beet being unloaded at the Cantley sugar factory in January 2105. Picture: James Bass

Sugar beet being unloaded at the Cantley sugar factory in January 2105. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

East Anglia's sugar beet campaign will get under way next week, with factories steaming into action to process what is expected to be a smaller-than-average crop.

Sugar beet is a mainstay of the region's agricultural output, with Norfolk and Suffolk responsible for growing about half of the UK's crop, which is processed at British Sugar's four factories.

The 2016-17 campaign officially starts on Tuesday at Newark in Nottinghamshire and Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, with Norfolk's factories following suit on Thursday at Wissington, near King's Lynn, and at Cantley, near Acle, on the following Tuesday.

After a wet start to the growing season, British Sugar said the decision was taken to start the campaign later than normal to 'ensure the crop has the opportunity to grow to its best potential and help maximise available yields.'

William Martin, who farms at Littleport near Ely, is the National Farmers' Union's (NFU's) sugar board chairman. He said: 'It has been quite a challenging year. There is a smaller crop in terms of the area planted, which was done to keep the stocks down. Also, the weather has not been particularly kind and the crop looks distinctly average this year.

'It was cold and wet in spring, so the crops were slow to establish and then it went very hot and very dry so, when they finally got some sunshine to grow, some of them ran out of moisture. It went from one extreme to the other. The late summer and early autumn has been better, and there has been some more encouraging growth in recent weeks, but not enough to catch up.

'The roots should still have a reasonable sugar content and it should be good quality processable roots, but they won't be the same size as usual.'

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A further reduction in UK sugar output is likely next year before the sugar beet crop area returns to more normal levels, according to British Sugar's parent company Associated British Foods (ABF).

The forecast was made in an interim statement to investors ahead of ABF's end-of-year results. It says UK sugar production for the 2015/16 year was just short of 1m tonnes as planned, in order to reduce excessive stocks from the prior year, with a smaller contracted growing area and average beet yields.

'Above average rainfall in June slowed the growth of the new crop for the 2016/17 season and, combined with a further small reduction in the contracted area, we expect a further reduction in sugar production next year before beet supplies are restored to more normal levels in 2017/18,' says the report.

How is your farm preparing for the 2016/17 sugar beet campaign? Contact chris.hill@archant.co.uk.