The NFU has defended its call for a sugar beet price of £34.50/t in the opening round of the 2010 contract negotiations with British Sugar.

Despite British Sugar immediately calling it “completely unrealistic”, NFU sugar chairman William Martin insisted the higher price was needed to cover production costs and encourage long-term reinvestment.

“British Sugar has said it wants long-term confidence and investment in the sector, so we asked growers what this meant for them – that’s how we arrived at this price.

“Let’s not forget, ABF [British Sugar’s parent company] announced profits from its sugar division were up 21% and has publically said that there are good prospects for the sector now that the European sugar regime policy has settled down. The currency has also helped them and I think it’s right farmers get to share in this.”

Mr Martin said the NFU “stands ready” to receive grower contracts before passing them to British Sugar, as it did during last year’s prolonged negotiations. “It’s too premature to say what will happen yet, but we are prepared to receive contracts if that’s what growers want us to do.”

He also repeated calls for changes to the crown tare rules to ensure growers were paid for everything grown and said better compensation should also be given to reflect the risk associated with long campaigns. The easiest way to do that was to improve the existing late delivery terms, he said.