BEET GROWERS in Ireland have started signing their contracts with Irish Sugar, after agreement between parent company Greencore and the Irish Farmers” Association on the terms for this year”s campaign.

Irish Sugar”s decision in January to close its factory at Carlow and concentrate all production at Mallow had effectively put the new season on hold.

With the site closing in early March, attention then focused on agreeing terms for a new transport subsidy to help about 2000 growers in the eastern counties railroad their beet to the more distant plant in Co Cork.

“An additional transport subsidy has now been agreed for the next four beet campaigns for the Carlow growers, on top of the basic EU transport subsidy,” said IFA sugar chairman Jim O”Reagan.

The IFA estimates this will be worth about 11m (8m) over the four years, though this will vary depending on actual production levels after EU quota cuts. The subsidy from Irish Sugar will be on top of the 7.3m (5.1m) a year basic EU transport subsidy.

This money will be used to cut the 9.90/t (6.90) freight rate agreed with Iarnrod Eireann (Irish Rail) for hauling beet from the new depot (yet to be established) at Carlow to the factory at Mallow.

“Farmers will still have to get their beet to that depot and meet the cost of doing so,” said IFA sugar adviser Elaine Farrel.

The deal also includes a two-year price agreement between growers and Irish Sugar. For 2005 rates will be fixed at 2004 levels, worth a gross 52.48/t (36.70) for A and B beet, including a 5.49/t (3.80) Irish premium. This will fall to 3.99/t (2.80) next year.

Irish Sugar is also looking to extend the season at both ends to a total 120 days, so a new scale of early and late delivery bonuses is being introduced, together with a new quota management and tare bonus scheme.

With contracts now signed, Irish beet growers have started drilling their seed, though the delays could affect yields.