SUGAR BEET growers have one week to decide whether to accept a cash offer from British Sugar to buy back contract tonnage.

The alternative is to wait for unknown EU compensation after sugar sector reforms in 2006.

British Sugar has just launched its permanent transfer scheme to bring the tonnage it contracts to producers back in line with the UK sugar quota.

The imbalance amounts to 160,000t, or about 2%, of national contract tonnage, according to agricultural communications manager Paul Bee.

He explained that better-yielding varieties and fewer impurities meant British Sugar contracts were over-producing.

The deal would be worth £30/t to growers more than 60 miles from a processing factory, and £24/t for half that distance.

One Cambs farmer, who preferred not to be named, said the news had been well received among neighbouring growers.

“I think it likely British Sugar’s offer will be over-subscribed. But speaking for myself, I don‘t like the short deadline to enter the scheme [Feb 4].

“At these rates, the deal will be worth around £20,000 to us, but is there another compensation package coming from Brussels?”

NFU Sugar board chairman Mike Blacker said it was difficult to judge whether this was a good deal.

“There are several restructuring schemes under discussion in Europe, and much could happen over the next 12 months.”

And although the buy-back offer only represented 2% of the national crop, at an average yield of 50t/ha, the move meant taking 3000ha out of sugar production.

“The NFU advice is for growers to seek professional advice before reaching a decision on whether to take up the offer,” said Mr Blacker.