Over 100 sugar beet growers are expected to attend a meeting near Peterborough, Cambs next Friday (18 July) to consider making a “take it or leave it” offer to British Sugar in respect of the 2009 beet crop.

The meeting is being organised by Cambridgeshire farmer Oliver Walston, following his call to fellow growers in last week’s Farmers Weekly Talking Point to get together and name their price for next season.

“If British Sugar says this is too high a price, then we farmers will simply not grow the crop next year,” he wrote. “If we succeed in gathering together a significant acreage, then the effect on British Sugar could be very profound indeed.”

Sugar beet drilling

Talking to FWi this week, Mr Walston said he had so far been contacted by about 100 farmers, who wanted to attend the meeting at Wype Doles Farm, Whittlesey and register their disgust at British Sugar’s offer of £24/t.

“The response has been amazing,” he said. “British Sugar made £199m profit from their English and Polish sugar operations last year. They are a well-run, efficient company. They can certainly afford to pay more to growers now and still make a decent profit.”

The NFU has given its support to the meeting. It had previously negotiated the minimum beet price of £24/t for 2009 with British Sugar, putting a floor in the market.

“Over the past few weeks, however, the price debate has been further fuelled, as growers revisit their costs against the spiralling price of inputs,” said a statement. “Many growers see the current offer as unrealistic and the approaching contract deadline of 15 August appears to be bringing things to a head.”

Commenting on the grower initiative, NFU sugar chairman William Martin said “We have been telling British Sugar for months that the beet price isn’t good enough. The latest move by growers can only complement what we are doing centrally and strengthens the NFU’s negotiating position in the interests of all beet growers.”

* The meeting will be held at Wype Doles Farm, Angle Bridge, Benwick Road, Whittlesey, PE7 2HL at 11.00am on Friday 18 July. Refreshments will be provided. More details from owalston@thriplow-farms.co.uk or 01763 208 305