Frustrated sugar beet growers must speak out against British Sugar’s refusal to raise prices for next season’s crop, the NFU told farmers at Cereals 2006.

Sugar board chairman John Hoyles called on growers to “send a clear message” to British Sugar that they would not produce the crop at a loss.

EU minimum prices offered by the processor could see farmers receive just £17.50/t by 2009.

“I want British Sugar to realise they are crippling a lot of growers by failing to support the base price.”

British Sugar’s transport allowance was unrealistic and left growers forced to shoulder a £1/t shortfall to get the crop to the factories, he added.

Many farmers at the NFU’s seminar expressed frustration and some questioned the union’s ability to secure a better deal on their behalf.

One grower suggested farmers sign their contracts, but only for half the tonnage, forcing the processor to come back to the negotiating table.

But Mr Hoyles cautioned against any protest which could breach farmers’ contracts and pledged he would do everything possible for farmers in discussions with the processor.

British Sugar’s head of agriculture Col McCay told Farmers Weekly he expected some growers to leave sugar production at these prices.

“We have talked with the NFU about how we can form an outgoers’ scheme.

“But we believe there will still be sufficient growers who will want to take on the extra tonnage that’s released.

“And there is no doubt annual yields are increasing at about 2% a year – that’s not seen in any other crop.”