Cantley beet factory halts processing

A breakdown at the country's longest established beet factory at Cantley will halt processing for more than a week, according to British Sugar.All slicing and sugar processing was stopped when the key drive shaft in the factory's dirty water settlement tank failed, forcing British Sugar to suspend all beet deliveries last Friday.

A breakdown at the country's longest established beet factory at Cantley will halt processing for more than a week, according to British Sugar.

All slicing and sugar processing was stopped when the key drive shaft in the factory's dirty water settlement tank failed, forcing British Sugar to suspend all beet deliveries last Friday.

Engineers, who have been working night and day to get the factory ready to slice beet again, will replace the giant drive gear in the 60m-wide tank and hope to start slicing again on Thursday.

Deliveries are likely to resume at the earliest on Saturday when the factory picks up processing speed.

It is the first time in the history of the Cantley factory - which was built in 1912 and is the country's oldest established modern beet sugar refinery - that it has gone down for so long.

A leading east Norfolk grower, Roger Beck, delivered his first load of sugar beet to Cantley in 1947 from the family's farm at Brumstead, near Stalham.

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“I can't remember the factory being closed for a week ever, and even when it was cut off by snow they managed to keep slicing,” said Mr Beck.

Phil Inskip, who is the agricultural business manager at Cantley, said that British Sugar's engineers and contractors have been working night and day to get the beet campaign back on track.

“We've brought in people from all our sites and also dozens and dozens of contractors as well,” he said. “This is the biggest breakdown that I can remember for at least 25 years,” added Mr Inskip.

British Sugar first brought in a team of divers to assess the extent of the damage to the three-tonne motor, which powers four stirring arms in the settlement tank. It was then decided to replace the drive motor rather than run the risk of a failure again, said Mr Inskip, and a spare was then rushed from British Sugar's Peterborough headquarters.

Two massive cranes were brought to lift excavators inside the actual tank in order to clear the settled soil and mud, which would normally be pumped into settling ponds to allow the water to be re-circulated.

The factory was forced to stop processing because beet could not be moved for slicing from the reception area, which now holds a total of 16,000 tonnes of beet or almost two days' normal supply. It is transported by water, which is pumped through the factory.

The tank handles about 3,000 tonnes an hour of dirty water from washing beet, which is recirculated once the mud and soil has settled and is itself pumped out from the bottom of the conical tank for spreading back on the land.

Mr Inskip said that the factory has now stopped all processing.

“It will be like starting the factory from scratch again and it will take time to build up capacity,” he stressed.

Broadland farmer George Gay, of Hall Farm, Thrigby, who represents the National Farmers' Union, said that many thousands of tonnes of beet were now stuck on farms.

He had one lorry loaded with beet, which he now would be able to unload until the end of the week at the earliest.

Cantley, which processes about 1.3m tonnes of beet during the annual campaign, would normally slice about 9,500 tonnes daily. It employs about 150 staff. Each day about 330 loads of beet are delivered from about 900 growers in Norfolk and Suffolk.

The factory normally operates 24 hours a day throughout the campaign, which runs for about 155 days until mid to late February. Around 1,200 tonnes of crystal sugar are produced every day.

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