Britain has the potential
to be EUs top performer
By Suzie Horne
Sugar beet is a money-spinner for many growers, and their readiness to take up sound research messages has raised their profile within the EU. But there is scope to do even better. This special feature, ranging from politics to technology, aims to help in the drive for efficiency.
UK BEET growers have been steadily climbing the European league table for sugar production a hectare. British Sugar already holds the slot as the EUs most efficient processor, with the lowest costs a tonne of sugar produced.
At BS, agricultural director Chris Carter believes it is an achievable long term goal for the UK industry to become the best performer in Europe, both in terms of sugar production per hectare and grower profitability.
To achieve this growers must attack both fixed and variable costs, he says. "Harvester efficiency is crucial. In any given year, 10% of the crop never gets out of the field, and there are many reasons. Harvesters are incorrectly set up, driven too fast, and driven by people not qualified to drive them. We reckon half of that 10% is retrievable, and will be undertaking commercial-scale work on it this winter.
"Another important area is storage management. We lose perhaps 5% of beet in unnecessary storage losses on farm. There are simple ways of improving this in the latter half of winter."
Drought is one of the biggest threats to the UKs performance. Although about 25% of the sugar beet crop has access to irrigation, only 10% gets added water in a typical hot, dry summer, according to Mr Carter.
Improved fertiliser efficiency would pay growers back twice, he argues. First, they would cut their input costs, and second they would improve sugar content. At the extreme, high nitrogen can also penalise yield, so there is a third potential loss from inefficiency.
Misuse of organic manure, with its fertiliser value improperly accounted for, continues to worry BS.
The controversial subject of whether beet contracts should be transferable is another area where Mr Carter sees potential for efficiency improvements. BS is not against the idea of freeing up tonnages to encourage more mobility of contracts between growers. But it believes some form of performance measure would be needed to ensure incoming growers were technically efficient and suitably located.
Defending the companys control of the beet seed market, Mr Carter points out that the seed account is non-profit making and open to scrutiny by growers. Prices compare well with those of our competitors, he says.
British Sugar believes UKsugar beet growers could eventually become Europes top producers.
British Sugars agricultural director, Chris Carter.