Growers lifting sugar beet this autumn could be affected by financial difficulties experienced by a major contractor and haulier of the crop, says the NFU.
Forecasts of a near record crop this season prompted British Sugar to open its four sugar beet processing factories earlier than usual last month.
At its peak, more than 400 lorries are expected to deliver sugar beet daily to the company’s Newark factory alone.
NFU Sugar chairman Michael Sly said: “NFU Sugar is saddened and disappointed to learn that a significant contractor – a pioneer in self-grown [sugar beet] and the industry harvesting and haulage scheme – has gone into technical administration.”
See also: Why UK sugar beet has a bright future
Mr Sly said he was not in a position to name the contractor and haulier in question. But the business was “highly regarded by growers for its professionalism and the service it had offered”, he told an NFU council meeting at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.
“It is therefore unfortunate that a commercial solution has not been found to date,” said Mr Sly. “There is a possibility that this may impact on the current campaign,” he told the open meeting on Tuesday (10 October).
British Sugar expects to make more than 1.4m tonnes of sugar from this season’s beet crop – close to the record 1.45m tonnes made from the 2014 crop. Mr Sly said. “It is going to be a very long campaign. Easter is at the end of March and I fully suspect we will still taking beet into the factories up until then.”
The industry harvesting and haulage scheme was set up as a joint initiative between British Sugar and the NFU in 2010.
It aims to improve the efficiency of beet deliveries from field to factory by putting British Sugar rather than growers in charge of transportation and contracting it out.
British Sugar managing director Paul Kenward said he did not anticipate any significant delays due to the contractor in question. “We have done everything we can to support the business concerned,” he said.
“We’re sorry to hear this news and our thoughts are with everyone impacted.” Mr Kenward added:
“We have contingency plans in the event the business ceases trading, which will be confined largely to the Newark factory area. We have identified other contractors to step into contracts if required to make sure that beet is lifted and hauled.”
Growers concerned they may be affected are being asked to call the British Sugar helpline on 0870 240 2314 or the NFU Sugar helpline on 03700 661 974.