Angry sugar beet growers have sent a clear message to British Sugar that 2009 contract prices need to increase to nearer £30/t, otherwise many may not grow the crop next year.

The argument was made at last week’s meeting near Peterborough, the outcome of which, forced the NFU to resume 2009 price negotiations with British Sugar. Many of the 300 growers attending said that BS’s offers of £24/t with exchange rate escalator, or £25/t fixed would mean the crop was unprofitable on all but the highest-yielding land.

“British Sugar tell us that at 60t/ha, they believe the cost of growing beet is about £24/t, but unless you can achieve 70t/ha, this is utterly unrealistic,” Cambridgeshire grower Tim Brightman said.

harvest

2008 could be the last beet harvest for some growers, unless British Sugar agree to increase prices

Norfolk farmer Ian Robertson said that even with average yields of 26-29t/acre (64-72t/ha), which were up to BS’s target 70t/ha, he would cut his acreage if prices did not increase. “We need £30/t, and if the price doesn’t change, we may grow some beet, but won’t set out to grow our full quota. Ultimately, it’s British Sugar that’ll loose out we can grow other crops, but they can’t process anything else.”

Brown & Co consultant Tim Young said that costs of production for the firm’s clients ranged from £25/t for the top 25% to over £30/t for the bottom quartile. “But that’s just the cost of production. Farmers need to get a return for growing the crop if they’re ever going to reinvest and we suggest that should be 15% on top of production costs. That takes the price to over £30/t.”

The price also had to reflect the weather-related risks associated with growing sugar beet, he added. “Farmers can shift between the top and bottom 25% over one season, just because of the weather.”

Mr Young also said there needed to be a fuel escalator incorporated into the haulage allowance, as many growers were paying £1-1.50/t more than the allowance was worth.

Farmers Weekly’s view

Although the NFU and British Sugar deny 2009 price negotiations were ever closed, essentially, they were. Full credit then to all those growers, and Oliver Walston in particular for organising the meeting, for clubbing together and forcing both parties to return to the table. Hopefully there will be a positive outcome that will see all growers get a fair price. It just goes to show what farmers can achieve when they collaborate – now over to you NFU.

Have your say on the Fwi forums

  • NFU latest stance:
  • NFU to reopen 2009 price talks with British Sugar
  • Growers should return their signed beet contract to NFU Sugar (address below)
  • Contracts will be held by NFU Sugar, pending negotiations
  • NFU Sugar, Agriculture House, Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth, CV8 2TZ, Warwickshire