IRISH SUGAR growers face extra costs of about 5m (£3.5m) to transport their beet to the country’s one remaining factory at Mallow, Co Cork, after the decision by Greencore to close its plant at Carlow.

The figure has been calculated by the Irish Farmers’ Association, which believes the cost for railroading two-thirds of Carlow’s beet to Mallow will overshoot the 7.3m (£5.1m) maximum transport subsidy available.

IFA sugar beet chairman Jim O”Reagan told a meeting of 850 growers in Carlow on Monday (Jan 17) that it was up to Greencore to carry the extra costs and ensure growers were not penalised.

The IFA also accused Greencore of acting prematurely in closing the plant before it knew the outcome of the impending EU sugar reform and of undermining the Irish government’s position ahead of these negotiations.

“We feel they’ve let everyone down – the growers, the employees and the government,” said IFA sugar beet adviser Elaine Farrel. “They’ve said they will build a new rail depot [for the Carlow growers], but they’ve not even applied for planning permission.”

 The IFA has called on Greencore to postpone the decision until the end of 2005, when the size of EU price and quota cuts will be known. But this possibility has been dismissed by Greencore. “We are looking at a train coming down the track. Either we stand still and get wiped out or react now and have a chance of survival,” said a spokesman. “To survive we have to rationalise and get our costs down.”

Under Greencore’s plan, Carlow will close in March, costing the company about 25m (£17.5m) in redundancy, decommissioning and reinvestment at Mallow.

Planning permission for a new rail depot at Carlow is about to be submitted. The company aims to have it ready by mid-August.

The Greencore spokesman said the haulage cost implications would be worked out through discussions with growers, though everyone would feel some pain from the rationalisation.

Brussels has filed its appeal against last year’s World Trade Organisation ruling that part of the EU’s export policy violates global trade rules.

Formal proposals for reforming the EU’s sugar regime will not be issued until the results of this appeal are known, probably in May.

Third world lobby group Oxfam has accused the commission of deliberately dragging its feet. “The unjust system [of dumping excess sugar] is long past its expiry date. Reform must happen soon,” said a spokesman.