Radical changes to the transport of sugar beet have been proposed by British Sugar and the NFU in a bid to cut costs and improve efficiency.
A voluntary pilot scheme set out in the NFU/British Sugar transport efficiency study will be implemented at the company’s Newark and Wissington factories later this year.
The study proposed that British Sugar should co-ordinate all beet haulage, with growers having ex-farm contracts and hauliers competing for haulage territories directly with the company.
A harvesting option will also be available, linked to haulage, to improve the co-ordination of harvesting and haulage.
For the 2010 season, British Sugar will be writing to all growers in the Newark and Wissington areas with details of the pilot scheme, assessing the level of interest.
Similarly, hauliers will also receive letters in April with the scheme details. Once declarations of interest have been returned, they will be selected according to location, experience, efficiency and services offered.
Growers involved in the pilot scheme will not receive the transport allowance, explained Mark Culloden of British Sugar’s Wissington factory. “As now, there will be an additional haulage charge applied to those sites which are more than 50 miles away.”
For the pilot scheme to operate, a maximum of 15-20% of the factory site’s total tonnage will be required.
Other recommendations made by the study include the publication of best practice guidelines and extended factory servicing hours.
Chris Douglas of transport consultants TTR pointed out that “Currently, 700 of the 2000 vehicles involved, transported less than two loads per week,” he said. “In addition, some 10% of loads are carried by vehicles with payloads of 26t or less, while 550 vehicles are more than nine years old. This has obvious implications for fuel efficiency.”
A survey of growers at British Sugar meetings showed that 80% were happy with existing arrangements, despite long standing grumbles about the transport allowance.
A spokesman for Cambridgeshire grower E M Morris (Stonea) said he had no intention of changing. “I don’t see how our system could be improved. We work very closely with our contractor and have never run into problems. Communication is the key.”
Many hauliers have concerns about negotiating with British Sugar and fear the imposition of new standards, which would add costs. “More give from British Sugar will be needed for the scheme to appeal,” said a spokesman.
March-based haulier D&J Transport believed there would be opportunities, but highlighted the vagaries of season, soil type and location on beet haulage rates.
“It will be interesting to find out if we can work together. Everyone is keen to lose unnecessary costs.”
David Papworth of the White Cross Beet Syndicate pointed out that the ultimate aim was to become more efficient. “Many of us have invested in expensive machinery, so we welcome the study’s suggestions.
“But what we also need is extended factory opening hours and an end to ramping up. There’s too much time lost waiting at the gates.”