Norfolk sugar factory shatters production records

British Sugar's Cantley factory is breaking records for crystal production at the start of its centenary year.

As average sugar levels hold steady at more than 18.5pc, the beet sugar factory, which was established in 1912, is producing record volumes of sugar. Mid-Norfolk grower Robert Hambidge recalled that exactly a year ago throughput at British Sugar's four factories virtually collapsed as attempts were made to process severely frost-damaged beet.

After weeks of sub-zero temperatures, an unexpected thaw in mid-January sent temperatures soaring to more than 10C and beet started to rot, especially when the bitterly-cold weather returned.

'It was when everything turned absolutely horrible – for farmers, hauliers and processor,' said Mr Hambidge, who also lost tens of thousands of pounds when fields of his rotting beet at Pudding Norton, near Fakenham, had to be destroyed. 'One could say that this campaign has been as good as the last one was bad. It has been a remarkable season.'

In the current campaign, the four factories were averaging 18.2pc sugar content. In the same week last year, the average was 16.1pc and within hours, it had fallen last January to a fraction over 15pc as factories struggled to slice and process beet.

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The mild and exceptionally dry weather has helped growers to deliver crops in exceeding good condition and with very low 'dirt' tares.

And because the weather has remained so mild and many growers, especially in east Norfolk have left substantial areas in the ground, sugar yields have not shown the usual post-Christmas dip. Mr Hambidge, who has enjoyed one of his best years and has averaged 70 tonnes after last year's disaster, had the last of his beet lifted this week.

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'I don't expect it to be delivered for a week or two. The weather has given me great peace of mind compared to last year.'

While many growers have easily achieved yields of more than 100 tonnes per hectare, it also been a very good income earner for the year.

As the sugar levels at Cantley have been running at between 18.5pc and 19pc, the factory was refining record volumes of sugar. In a typical campaign, Cantley would slice about 9,000 tonnes of beet a day at 17pc but was now producing 10pc more crystal sugar a day from these high sugars.

'They've been breaking records for crystal production,' said Mr Hambidge, who said that because of Europe's sugar reforms there was actually a structural shortage within the EU and this might represent an opportunity.

'It is in my interest that British Sugar is a profitable company. And the announcement that it intends to pay �25 per tonne for surplus beet in next season's campaign is also welcome,' he added.

Overall, other factories were also performing well with Bury St Edmunds running at an average sugar content of 18.3pc, Cantley at 18.6pc and Wissington about 18.1pc.

Colm McKay, who is British Sugar's director of agriculture, said that the industry could not have hoped for a better campaign for everybody following last year's experience.

n Three members of the NFU sugar board, Robert Law, of Royston; Robert Hambridge and David Papworth, of Tuttington, near Aylsham, have been re-elected. Hundreds of growers will be attending the BBRO's January briefing at Peterborough on Wednesday.

n Mr Papworth, who is also a sugar board member, featured in the 'One' programme on BBC 1 last night about sugar beet harvest and the centenary year of the Cantley factory.

n In a speech in the European Parliament on farm input and food supply chains, Euro MP and Norfolk farmer Stuart Agnew, who is a spokesman on agriculture, paid tribute to Britain's successful plant breeders. During his lifetime, he had seen wheat and sugar beet yields triple.

'All of that is down to the efforts of the plant breeders and they have to be rewarded for the work they do.'

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