Record year for Norfolk sugar beet factories
Record sugar production will cheer delegates at today's Norfolk Farming Conference after a catastrophic harvest last year.
British Sugar's four factories, including two in Norfolk, have processed a record 1.3m tonnes of sugar in the centenary year of the home-grown industry.
With four days to the official end of the latest campaign, 4,000 growers in eastern England will deliver record sugar beet yields to refineries, including the world's largest plant at Wissington, near Downham Market, and Cantley, near Acle.
And about 400 farmers and growers at the John Innes Conference Centre at the Norwich Research Park will also hear more good news – as costs in the latest annual farm inflation index have fallen from 13pc to just 1.53pc in the last six months.
But in Norfolk, which is the heartland of beet growing and produces more than 30pc of the national sugar crop, record beet yields of about 74 tonnes per hectare have been a bonus.
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Near-perfect growing conditions after the earliest start to planting last spring and the dry, warm weather through the latest five-month harvesting campaign, have enabled record beet yields to be achieved.
Gino de Jaegher, who is British Sugar's managing director, said: 'We will see a record 1.3m tonnes of sugar processed – the most we have ever done from four factories. What a difference a year makes.'
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The catastrophic losses caused by sub-zero temperatures last year, when growers estimate that about one million tonnes of beet worth more than �30m were lost, also cost British Sugar in higher processing costs and reduced sugar production.
In the year that the UK beet sugar industry marks its centenary because the Cantley factory was established in 1912, growers can afford to be optimistic about the crop's prospects. Growers have harvested four record yields in the past seven years.
The two Norfolk factories are expected to receive final deliveries on Saturday and processing will be completed over the weekend. The second largest factory, Bury St Edmunds, 'sliced out' last week and Newark in Nottinghamshire will finish later on Monday.
'The average sugar content for the campaign will be just over 18pc and again the sugars at this time of year have probably never been higher,' said Robin Limb, who is British Sugar's central agricultural business manager.
The home-grown sugar industry, which is regarded as the most efficient in Europe, has made dramatic improvements in crop yield in the past decades.
Beet growers' leader William Martin, who represents sugar farmers, said the industry had a bright future and was already producing higher yields than many cane growing countries.
'It is generally agreed that one of the reasons that the UK had such a good crop last year was because we had an almost the earliest drilling date ever. It is nice to bounce back in such stylish fashion,' said Mr Limb.
British Sugar produced a record 1.59m tonnes of sugar in the 1997 campaign before EU reforms led to closure of factories and a reduction in the sugar beet area.
NFU president Peter Kendall, who was re-elected for a fourth term yesterday, with deputy Meurig Raymond, will deliver the keynote address at the Norfolk Farming Conference.
News from the Norfolk Farming Conference in tomorrow's EDP.