23 August 1996

Beet producers fear extended delivery period

By Suzie Horne

THE length of the UK sugar beet campaign is a thorny subject for growers who fear the gradual extension of the delivery period from farm to factory may be a prelude to further factory closures.

Not so, says British Sugar. While capacity to process is the key to the length of the campaign, there is no intention at present to close more factories, says business development manager Peter Williams.

The potential size of the crop and its rate of growth determine when the campaign opens, and also influences its completion date.

"The UK has a climatic advantage in that we do not suffer the harsh winters of continental Europe," says Mr Williams. "Their campaigns end earlier, but they finish their harvest earlier too. Our milder winter enables us to process longer without sustaining unacceptable losses in store."

While the UK campaign can run into February, most of continental Europe completes beet deliveries in late December or early January. BS will not be looking for further extensions unless the crop is very large, says Mr Williams, although processors in other European countries would like to see a longer delivery period for their own raw material.

BS pays late delivery bonuses – 0.8% of the minimum beet price between Dec 26 and Jan 7, then 0.2% extra for each day of storage.

However, the NFU argues the payment only compensates on the sugar loss in A and B beet in some seasons, and takes no account of loss on C beet deliveries. "It is not adequate to cover the cost of the equipment and the time involved in the careful management of stored beet," says beet committee secretary Susan Hazeldine.

Mr Williams considers storage costs are not excessive, and that despite a later finish, UK growers are not expected to provide storage capacity for a higher proportion of their crop than are other European growers.

"BS storage trials have shown that in well-managed stores, late delivery bonuses more than cover losses. Well-managed stores can be quite low cost operations. Most growers have the capacity to store between 25 and 50% of their crop and many choose to delay beet deliveries to maximise the amount of bonus received," he says.

&#8226 Crop size sets campaign length, not potential factory closures.

&#8226 Only if very large crop will further extensions be sought.

&#8226 BS – late delivery bonuses cover losses if beet stored well.

&#8226 NFU – bonuses ignore C beet deliveries and are inadequate.

The UKs milder winters keep store losses low, insists British Sugar.