Sugar beet growers facing losses exceeding £15m because of a disastrous harvest will not face further penalties, said British Sugar.
The processing giant said it would not enforce rules requiring growers to deliver at least 95% of their contracted tonnage.
Farmers who fail to deliver the agreed amount of beet averaged across two seasons can usually expect a pro-rata reduction in quota allocation. But the rule will be disregarded following a freeze-thaw winter that has left hundreds of growers with beet deemed impossible to process.
Up to 600 frustrated growers attended a fraught meeting with British Sugar representatives at the Lincolnshire Showground, Grange-de-Lings, on Thursday (27 January).
The company’s Newark factory is capable of processing 1.5 million tonnes of beet. But as much as 40% of the crop in the area faces being written off.
Unharvested beet across East Anglia is also losing quality.
The list of villages with fields of untouched and half-lifted beet across Suffolk and Norfolk reads like a gazetteer of English place names.
Rotting crops can be seen from the roadsides at Bramfield, Woodton, Kirstead Green, Ringland, Honingham, Pickenham, Middleton and Terrington St Clement, among others.
“Everyone understands it is at the grower’s risk, but there is a lot of unhappiness about the way beet is being assessed for processing,” said NFU East Midlands director Richard Hezlet.
“It’s a disaster for contractors and hauliers – as well as farmers. There’s a lot of borrowed money at stake.”
British Sugar processed 8079 tonnes of beet at Newark on Wednesday (26 January) – but much of it was brought in from the company’s factories in Bury St Edmunds and Wissington.
A handful of local growers did, however, have loads accepted at Newark and more deliveries are expected to be accepted on Friday (28 January).
Even so, British Sugar continues to insist that most of the beet in the area has deteriorated to such an extent that it remains impossible to process. Beet towards the north of the Newark catchment, which includes parts of Yorkshire, is said to be worse affected than beet to the south. Hardly a single farmer has escaped unscathed.
Beet was being successfully lifted at Long Sutton, Lincolnshire, on Thursday (27 January). But it was the exception, rather than the norm.
“It’s not hopeful,” said Geoff Hotchkin, who grows 1250t of beet at Little Hale, near Sleaford. “A quarter of the crop is still in the ground and the prospects don’t look good.”
Giles Hanglin, head of agri-business at farm business consultants Savills, said growers with unlifted beet would soon face the prospect of being unable to sow a following crop this spring. “There are huge problems all ways round,” said Mr Hanglin. “It’s nothing short of a disaster.”
In a statement, British Sugar said the company recognised that its growers were facing a difficult and frustrating situation. “We have taken, and will continue to consider, every practical step to ensure where processable beet will be taken through our factories,” the statement said.
“It remains in everyone’s interest to maximise factory outputs through beet selection and prioritisation.”
British Sugar said it also appreciated the impact on growers who had deteriorated beet. “We are exploring a number of alternative options, in conjunction with the NFU, to help growers mitigate the associated cost.”
For more on the sugar beet crisis, click here.
Link to NFU Fodder Bank for alternative markets for frost-affected beet here