Beet contracts for the 2009 season may be sent out up to six weeks earlier than usual, Farmers Weekly has learned.

The NFU and British Sugar have been in discussions about the possibility, Helen Kirkman of the NFU confirmed on Wednesday afternoon, but stressed nothing had been agreed.

“The main reason is so British Sugar can get an indication of who intends to grow,” she said. “There has been a lot of speculation about how much people will grow or, indeed, whether they will grow.”

In principle, the NFU didn’t oppose bringing forward the date on which contracts were sent out, provided it was in the interests in the industry as a whole, caused no unnecessary confusion, and that growers understood when the deadlines would be, she said.

But there had been no agreement about how far forward contracts would be brought. “April may be British Sugar’s recommendation, but that hasn’t been agreed.”

Deadlines for returning the contracts could also be brought forward, she said. “Arguably, yes, growers will have a similar period of time to complete contracts.”

But Lincolnshire beet grower Mark Ireland said he thought most growers would be keen for the completion deadline not to be brought forward. “The contract might arrive early, but growers will be keen to leave it as long as possible.”

An earlier deadline could mean more growers opting not to grow beet in 2009, he said. “As far as 2009 goes, unless things radically change, a lot of growers won’t grow beet. Growers are telling me, yes, beet prices have increased, but there has also been a lot of increase in variable costs. If the contracts come early, some of those growers won’t send it back.”

He didn’t think British Sugar would, at least initially, increase prices for 2009, if beet production was less than what British Sugar required to fill its factories. “My guess would be that they would offer quota elsewhere first.”

He was planning to grow the crop in 2009, he said. “But I’m not going out of my way to increase my area.”