BIG PROCESSING hiccups at the west’s sole sugar beet factory at Allscott, Shropshire, mean growers are being denied the chance to maximise their winter wheat areas.

Kind weather means on-farm beet storage losses have been minimal, but the experience is adding to producers’ uncertainty and is annoying hauliers.

There have been delays at Allscott, admits British Sugar spokesman Paul Bee, which could push processing into March. “We have been paying growers earlier to compensate for the slowness of deliveries,” he adds.

“But the fact that we have spent millions of pounds at Allscott shows our commitment to the industry.”

Allscott’s woes started in November, says Richard Solari, who grows 109ha (270 acres) of beet at Shifnal, Shropshire. A scheduled 2-3 day shutdown to install new equipment led to a range of problems, including an electrical fault which blacked out much of Telford. Some beet deliveries were diverted to the Newark, factory in Notts.

“We are about a fortnight late [with lifting] and we won’t be sowing any more wheat now,” he says.

“It’s a nightmare,” agrees former farmers weekly barometer farmer Andrew Symonds, who has 65ha (160 acres) of beet at Lincomb Farms, Stourport on Severn, Worcs.

“We are running about three weeks behind last season. This time last year we were just about up to quota. Now we are only about 65% there. We have probably missed out on getting 40 acres of late wheat in.”

At a recent meeting Hereford growers were particularly incensed at being forced to switch from wheat to less rewarding spring cereals, he adds.

“All this uncertainty, especially in the light of the sugar regime reform, doesn’t instil a great deal of confidence in the industry.”