17 November 2000

EU beet plan will wallop us

WRITING letters has never been my strong point as my wife and family would be the first to testify.

But there are times when good manners and necessity dictate that one must put pen to paper. For example, acknowledging birthday and Christmas presents, or when one is presenting a case to ones bank manager for a loan, and to communicate to ones MP feelings on burning issues of the day.

Although I hope no one would liken me to the writer in the letters column of the daily Press signed "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells", I have had occasion recently to inform my MP of several issues close to my heart.

One could select a wide range of subjects that pose a threat to farming and the people employed by it every week of the year. But common sense and time permit only a few of these issues to be pursued.

Our farm falls within the constituency of Phil Hope, Labour MP for Corby and East Northants. So far we have briefed him on the state of the pig industry, the BSE tax on pig farmers, the iniquity of food labelling, classical swine fever and the closure threat to small abattoirs.

With the exception of the latter, our letters have been forwarded to the ministerial department involved and have received personal responses. I understand that any letter received by an MPs constituent which asks a specific question of a government department must be answered by the minister involved and does not get confined to the bin as may have been supposed.

I am also reliably informed that the weight of an MPs postbag on a particular issue does have an impact on their views. In some cases, where one may be represented by someone from an urban constituency, it is important to be able to inform your MP of the issues on subjects which may be unknown to them.

That is certainly the case with the latest subject which has required me to write not only to Mr Hope, but also to our MEP. All sugar beet growers will have received a joint letter from the NFU and British Sugar earlier this month regarding two EU proposals that pose a big threat to the future of the EU sugar regime and our industry.

Write to MP

I would urge everyone to read this information and if possible write to your MP and MEP if you have not already done so. This single action, if taken up by growers, could at least stop these proposals from becoming law and allow a thorough study to be conducted to assess the impact on the industry.

The proposal that could hit sugar beet growers and, if not stopped, will be phased in on Jan 1, 2001 is known as the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative.

It will allow the worlds 48 poorest countries to import or dump sugar on to the European market free of all duty and quota restraints. That, in turn, will result in a one-for-one reduction of sugar quota which could mean a 25-40% quota cut affecting all EU producers.

Not only will growers quotas be cut but imported tariff free cheap sugar will drive down the overall price and render sugar beet growing unviable in the UK. Because of the weakness of the k we have already experienced a 30% fall in the sugar price in the past four years making, for some of us, a huge impact on our business bottom lines.

The NFU and British Sugar are suggesting a worst-case scenario of a 40% quota cut which could cost UK producers about £30m if the reduced beet area were to be replaced with cereals. That, in turn, would destabilise the cereal regime with disastrous knock-on effects.

To help the 48 poorest countries in the world is in itself both desirable and commendable. But not surely if it means beggaring our own agricultural industry. Sugar beet is still one of the best paying crops on our farm, but for how much longer?

These proposals, if passed, will come into effect next January reducing the tariff by 20% to imported sugar, in Jan 2002 this will be reduced by 50% and by Jan 2003 we will see a total removal and no limit placed on the quantity that may be imported.

Equally worrying is that this proposal has not been initiated by our elected representatives and is not subject to democratic process, but would be introduced through amendments to the AEUs Generalised System of Preferences.

I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of how these things work but decisions on this subject are not being made by agricultural ministers and agricultural European commissioners. The departments involved are Trade and Industry and International Development which it seems care little for farmers and agriculture.

It is vital that we act and make the government aware of the impact that these measures will have on the whole arable sector. Please write to your MP today. The critical dates are Nov 20 and Dec 8 when the general affairs committee will be meeting to decide our fate. &#42

Rare blue skies over Easton Lodge as our contractor tips sugar beet into the cleaner-loader. Less bright are the long-term prospects for sugar beet production if wide ranging reforms of the sugar regime go ahead, says farms manager, John Lambkin.