Promising start to Norfolk’s sugar beet harvest

Farmers are enthusiastic about the amount of sugar beet which has been produced across the county as this year's harvest gets under way.

But despite the drought conditions which struck Norfolk in spring and an early start to the season, growers are optimistic.

The harvest normally starts towards the end of September but farmers across the county started lifting sugar beet on Wednesday. It will finish in February next year.

William Martin, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) sugar board chairman who grows sugar beet in Littleport, near Ely in Cambridgeshire, said: 'I have yielded more than 70 tonnes of sugar beet per hectare and for this time of year that is very good.

'I have lifted the crop out of one field. It is early days but already there is quite a respectable yield, which is encouraging.'

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He supplies the British Sugar factory at Wissington, near Downham, with the crop but the company also has plants in Cantley, near Great Yarmouth, Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and Newark in Nottinghamshire.

Ed Wharton, who grows sugar beet over 180 hectares of land at Stokesby, near Great Yarmouth, said he has already lifted 58 tonnes of the crop per hectare.

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He added: 'Considering the sugar beet got off to such a slow start, because of the drought in spring, I'm reasonably pleased.'

Mr Wharton is part of the Fleggmart group – a collection of some 15 farmers in East Norfolk who produce sugar beet.

One of the group's members, Richard Hirst, who grows the crop at Ormesby, near Caister, said this year's conditions are 'ideal' for the current harvest.

But there are some concerns that possible strike action or industrial action short of a strike at the factories in Wissington, Cantley, Bury St Edmunds and Newark will affect this year's sugar beet campaign.

On Wednesday, 250 Unite members from all four sites will be balloted after workers rejected a 3.5 pc pay offer. The ballot closes on October 12.

Francis Ulrych, Norfolk county chairman for the NFU who also grows sugar beet at Griston, near Watton, said prolonged union action will be 'very damaging' for the season but was 'hopeful' the situation will be sorted out.

Robin Limb, central agricultural manager for British Sugar, added: 'The crop is growing rapidly.'

He said it was too early to tell how successful this year's harvest will be but said the signs were 'promising'.

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