Sugar beet growers will receive just £26/t for the 2010 crop, it has emerged.

Arbitration discussions between the NFU and British Sugar have concluded earlier than expected after the routine price negotaion process ended in deadlock.

All contracted tonnage for the 2010-2011 crop will be paid at £26/t, with an extra £1/t added to the transport allowance. However, this extra £1/t is dependant on British Sugar and the NFU agreeing a long-term framework for future beet price contracts.

A joint statement, signed by the NFU director-general Richard MacDonald and British Sugar’s Mark Carr, said: “Both the NFU and British Sugar acknowledge that the current situation is untenable”.

An extra 800,000t of contract tonnage, or about 14% of the national crop, will be available to growers next year, but without the extra transport payment.

The basis for the longer-term agreement is expected to be in place by March next year, and will be designed to put an end to annual price negotiations ending in stalemate.

Growers will receive their formal “Offers to Grow” in the next few days. They should be returned directly to British Sugar.

Reaction to the news is likely to be mixed, but will surprise few growers who heard British Sugar’s blunt message at a farmer meeting at Peterborough last month.

Cambridgeshire farmer Jim Alston said he would continue to grow the crop at the offered price. “I’m not surprised it’s £26/t, that’s what I was expecting after the meeting with British Sugar at Peterborough. But I am upset it’s taken so long to get this far.

“Prospects for a long-term agreement are interesting but I’m cautious of any agreement that links the price of beet to the price of wheat. I’d be more interested in a crop that stands on its own, that is grown well by specialist growers, and has a fixed price that allows us to make a decision.”

* For a Farmers Weekly comment, see Phil Clarke’s Business Blog