British Sugar’s plan to close two factories at the end of the next campaign has been slated by the NFU.

The doomed plants, at York and Allscott in Shropshire, process about 25% of the UK crop. BS blames EU sugar reform for the move, which will leave only four factories, all in the east, and result in 200 job losses.

“This decision by British Sugar will come as a real kick in the teeth for the farmers affected,” said NFU sugar chairman John Hoyles. “The decision is bound to have very serious implications, not only for farm profitability, but for the entire rural economy in the areas concerned.”

BS said the closures were needed to maintain its leadership in the EU sugar sector. With efficiency improvements, more investment in the remaining plants, and anticipated cuts in non-quota sugar, it could process all the UK crop in fewer factories.

“While changes like this are difficult, they are necessary if we are to ensure the long term sustainability of this industry in the UK,” said chief executive Mark Carr. “Our main priority now is to understand the individual needs of the people involved.”

Stressing its commitment to the sector, the company confirmed it intended to buy extra quota available to the UK as a result of regime reform.

Producer reactions have been mixed. “I’m pleased,” said Farmers Weekly’s Shropshire-based Barometer farmer Richard Solari. “I’ve been so fed up with British Sugar and there’s no profit in the crop any more.
All our sugar beet machinery is clapped out anyway. We’ll grow oilseed rape instead – it roots as deeply and is harvested much earlier.

But Shrewsbury contractor Robert Pinches, who runs two harvesters and estimates the crop accounts for about 30% of his turnover, described the news as “a big blow”. “After the recent £12m investment at Allscott we’d been told there’d be no closures.”

But former Barometer grower Alastair Home-Roberts had anticipated the move. “I’m not surprised and I hope they look after us. We’ve been doing our sums on alternatives for 12 months.”