British Sugar says it is confident it has secured sufficient commitments from farmers to supply its 2009 crop after it significantly sweetened its contract offer. But many remain sceptical that the processor has done enough.

The company’s 15 August dealine for the return of contracts passed last week, after BS upped its fixed-price offer to farmers by £1/t and haulage allowances. The move followed continued lobbying after a gathering of 300 dissatisfied growers, organised by farmer Oliver Walston, sent the NFU and BS back to the negotiating table.

As Farmers Weekly went to press (20 August), British Sugar would not confirm whether its improved offer had convinced enough farmers to commit to the crop. “Given the uncertainties which have surrounded this process this year and the additional money which we offered, combined with the weakening price of wheat and rape, it is not surprising that many growers kept their options open until the last minute,” said a British Sugar spokesman.

“As a result, we received a deluge of contract forms last weekend, which we are now working our way through. Until that process is completed, we cannot be certain of the outcome, but we are confident that our supply needs will be met.”

NFU sugar beet chairman William Martin told FW that most growers who had returned contacts had opted for the £26/t guaranteed offer rather than the minimum price, with a wheat price and currency related escalator.

But a significant number of growers remain disenchanted with the crop. Cambridgeshire farmer Oliver Walston is cutting his beet production from 4000t to 3000t and suspects he is not alone. “An awful lot of people I’ve spoken to have said they are cutting back and some have said they are stopping altogether. The whole thing is a bit of a farce the increase in price they have given would have happened anyway because of currency fluctuation.”