British Sugar is fighting to save what remains of this year’s sugar beet crop amid a disastrous harvest that could cost growers more than £15m.
David Bolton, of farm business consultants David Bolton Associates, described the evolving situation as desperately serious.
“None of us know what the potentially recoverable beet is going to yield. I don’t think any man can put a figure on it,” he said.
Estimates suggest as much as 600,000t of beet could be lost from the Newark area alone due to mild and wet weather following temperatures as low as -14C before Christmas.
But growers in across eastern England, including parts of Yorkshire, are also facing heavy losses.
Crop damage is patchy around the north Norfolk coast. But losses appear to be worse further inland.
A lucky few farmers had managed to harvest and deliver 100% of their crop, said Mr Bolton. But some had yet to lift a single root.
“Beet is barely acceptable,” he added. “Some are looking at the prospect of a completely written-off crop, which will be hurting them terribly.”
The crisis has seen some growers call for a renegotiation of beet pricing arrangements agreed just last year in a landmark deal between British Sugar and the NFU
At the time, both sides had heralded the agreement as a new partnership for the sector. But some farmers now feel it is a partnership that has left growers carrying all the risk.
Mr Bolton said it was particularly unfortunate that the disaster had occurred so soon after the new partnership had been established.
“It is a perfectly dreadful event to have happened so early on in the marriage,” he said.
In a bid to keep its Newark factory open to local growers, British Sugar is continuing to bring in beet from processing plants in East Anglia.
Blending better quality beet from Wissington and Bury St Edmunds with poorer beet from the Newark area has seen deliveries accepted from local growers.
Some 4800t of beet were processed at Newark on Saturday (29 January). But the plant had been processing 8000t a day earlier in the week.
“We are continuing to run with good sound beet delivered from the Bury and Wissington factories,” said a British Sugar spokesman.
“This has allowed us to take delivery again of good, sound frost-free beet Newark beet.”
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