Maximising the amount of compensation paid to sugar beet growers in the first four years of reform is the top priority, according to NFU chief sugar beet adviser Helen Kirkman.
Addressing a “break out” session on “driving positive reform”, she said she was pleased to hear that DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett had recognised the need to treat sugar beet growers differently.
Earlier at the NFU’s annual conference the secretary of state had hinted that sugar beet compensation would still be moved towards a single flat rate area payment, but this could be at a slower rate than the normal single farm payment.
“Integrating compensation into the SPS is one thing, but we need to make sure British growers are not placed at a competitive disadvantage to their Continental competitors,” said Ms Kirkman.
NFU sugar beet vice-chairman Nick Wells agreed that it was important to have as much “front loading” as possible, with compensation linked to historic production for as long as possible.
The NFU will be consulting with its members in the coming weeks to feed into the new government consultation.
The other main priority was sorting out a new inter-professional agreement (IPA) with British Sugar for the newly reformed regime.
One of the successes that the NFU achieved during the course of the reform talks in Brussels last year was to get it written into the regulations that sugar industries would have to negotiate with producer bodies to determine price and contract terms.
In this context, Ms Kirkman urged British Sugar to pay above the official minimum EU beet price in future. “The minimum beet price is not sustainable,” she said. “We will not be growing beet at that price.”