Farm minister must back East Anglia’s sugar industry

Farm minister Jim Paice should support a home-grown success story, said beet growers' leader William Martin.

'The UK beet sugar industry just needs a little more time to adjust to compete with continental neighbours,' he told sugar farmers.

Fenland farmer Mr Martin, who farms at Littleport and is chairman of the NFU's sugar board, welcomed the 'up-beat message' from international analyst Martin Todd about the long-term prospects for sugar.

'Most of us were brought up to believe as a statement of fact that cane was always more productive and more cost-effective than beet. We've made huge strides as an industry to turn that round. We have the opportunity in the future to compete with cane product anywhere in the world.'

However, if the European Reforms pan out as predicted, then it is likely that the bulk of the European supplies in future will have to come from beet sugar produced in the EU rather than relying on imports. 'So that gives an opportunity to beet producers, and beet processors in the EU,' said Mr Martin.

'The snag,' he added, 'and that where we where we all come is if that opportunity is presented too quickly and immediately in 2015 - overnight - we in the UK are badly placed to take advantage of it.

'The previous reform (2006/7) saw in the UK the closure of factories at York and Allscott and retrenchment of the grower base down to East Anglia and the East Midlands,' he added. The four British Sugar factories are capacity and have long-running campaigns.

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'There are people in Europe who did not take the take same kinds of steps three or four years ago, the French in particular. Their campaign is much more shorter than ours.

'If the quotas are removed overnight in 2015, there is a real risk that other people in Europe are well-placed immediately to increase their production quite dramatically. They will fill that gap on the market which we would not be able to do. 'We need a long lead-in time to make the investments in factory capacity,' added Mr Martin.

'So perhaps by 2020 and not 2015, we could take our rightful place on the European market and gain increased volumes and grow our industry in a way that would be profitable for all of us.

'Our industry needs that delay until 2020. The UJK government and in particular Jim Paice has come out strongly that the Commission are right and let's get on with it and do it in 2015.

'If that happens, there is a real risk that the UK industry misses the opportunity to make the investment to allow us to have a big share of the European market. We all need to make sure that our MPS and Defra understand the risk that will be run by a rapid end to the quota regime. The risk will be run for the UK industry,' he added.

Mr Martin urged growers to write to their MPs to explain why the industry needs some extra time to invest in a profitable future so 'we can compete properly on European and world markets. We need the time to make that come to reality.'

'We could miss out on the opportunity for the UJK industry to grow. The current agenda is about jobs, growth and GDP growth, we could expand fill some of that European market but just give us a chance to take it.'

* Mr Martin predicted that at current production beet growers were heading for a record per hectare sugar crop. 'It will be a field yield record.'