REFORM OF the EU sugar regime could be usurped by major sugar buyers whose only interest is cheap sugar, growers have been warned.

A delay in publishing the draft regulation could mean the result will be a bad deal for farmers, said Richard Barker, senior partner of agricultural law firm Barker Gotelee.

“Growers and the National Farmers Union still have time to put their case to the Commission,” said Mr Barker.

“Growers must ensure that any flexibility in the Commission‘s thinking is not usurped by the major sugar buyers whose only interest is cheap sugar – whatever the cost to our farming industry.”

The Commission plans to delay publishing its plans so that it can take full account of the Mid Term Reform and allow new member states more time to develop their views, he said.

But this could mean the final decisions may not be made by Mr Fischler, who has fought hard to safeguard the industry‘s future, but by his successor.

“One of his [Fischler‘s] much used tactics is to propose options for change which range from virtually nothing to the unacceptably dramatic,” said Mr Barker.

“After public consultation he will then opt for his intended compromise middle position much to the relief of everyone who feared that the Commission might recommend the unacceptably dramatic to the Council of Farm Ministers.”

Mr Fischler‘s preferred option is also in line with the overall priority of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy, he added.

This encourages farmers to become more flexible and competitive in response to the market, but still supports them with decoupled payments.

“While this will not please our minister Margaret Beckett, who wants more radical reform, it will please the NFU,” said Mr Barker.

But the ‘dynamic hybrid‘ system of moving to regional flat rate payments may mean compensatory payments to beet growers will be short lived, he warned.