Sugar beet industry ripe for expansion

East Anglia's beet factories are poised for major market growth at home and abroad as British Sugar invests £27m into further efficiency improvements.

East Anglia's beet factories are poised for major market growth at home

and abroad as British Sugar invests £27m into further efficiency improvements.

British Sugar, the most profitable part of Associated British Foods, is spending almost half the total capital investment at Europe's flagship beet refinery at Wissington, near Downham Market.

About £12m will be spent on a new sugar processing plant and increased storage at the site.


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Production of green fuels from sugar beet is also likely to come on stream earlier than expected and probably by the middle of next year, said Karl Carter, British Sugar's head of agriculture and operations.

And Europe's most efficient sugar producer is looking to carve out a slice of the market by exporting from its oldest-established refinery at Cantley, near Acle.

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For the first time in decades, sugar from Norfolk and Suffolk will be exported to markets in the southern Mediterranean after the EU decision to scrap subsidised export sales.

“Cantley is a great location for us. It is the centre of a big sugar growing industry and we can export containers from the factory from the east coast through Felixstowe. We will also be looking at the potentially exciting opportunity of the new East Port at Yarmouth,” said Mr Carter.

The Cantley factory, which was the first modern beet plant to be built in 1912, has taken advantage of the tidal location on the river Yare to export bulk shipments of sugar beet pulp for animal feed in the past.

Mr Carter said: “Now we're looking to export sugar again in containers to Italy, Greece and Spain.

“We will be sending out 20-tonne containers of 'sugar in a bag'.

“We'll either fill a container with 20 tonnes of sugar in a big plastic bag or we could load 20 one-tonne plastic bags,” said Mr Carter.

The new loading arrangements will involve investment of about £750,000.

As Europe's sugar market has become more competitive, Cantley's east coast location is a further edge to win export markets. It could even play a role in processing imported raw cane sugar from outside the EU if conditions changed, he added.

The Bury St Edmunds factory, which is home to Europe's largest sugar packaging operation and where Silver Spoon is produced, will benefit from further investment.

Mr Carter said two 35,000-tonne thick juice tanks, each costing £1.5m, would be built alongside other improvements to the factory.

It achieved a plant record, slicing 14,312 tonnes in one day in January.

The Wissington factory, which broke a 75-year record to slice 20,023 tonnes in 24 hours in February this year, will produce bulk caster and extra fine sugars in the new £10m screening plant.

It extends the range of sugars and will replace the York and Allscott production facilities, which close in late January next year.

An 11th thick juice tank, with a 6,000-tonne capacity, will also be built.

Mr Carter said that “work was proceeding at pace” on the new bioethanol plant and that the plan was to get it fully commissioned by June or July next year.

He explained that once the plant was operating, it would be much easier to convert to making of the ultimate product biobutanol.

Although some observers had questioned whether the late decision to switch from bioethanol - producing green fuel from sugar beet - would delay progress, Mr Carter was far more bullish about the prospects. We're talking about a possible start of ethanol production in June or July next year,” he added.

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