By Robert Harris

GROWERS should reject British Sugars latest proposals to renegotiate the sugar beet contract, even though they contain some concessions demanded by farmers, says the NFU.

The union now seems to favour arbitration to bring four years of negotiations to an end.

BS is offering a fudged settlement with limited improvements, which mostly repackages and redistributes existing payments, says Matt Twidale, NFU sugar beet committee chairman.

He is infuriated by BSs decision to write to sugar-beet growers to spell out its latest proposals for the contract – the so-called inter-professional agreement – after the NFU rejected them three weeks ago.

But BS defends its decision. “The NFU sugar-beet committee has indicated they are going to arbitration,” says Clive Francis, deputy managing director. “Growers need to know what is on offer.”

The NFU has retaliated, mailing growers this week to urge them to stand firm.

Although BS has moved on two main sticking points, crown tare payments and transport arrangements, Mr Twidale says the proposals do not go far enough.

“They are offering £10/t of crown tare above 4%. That is worth about £3 million to growers, and will be phased in over five years. Thats about one-tenth of what we believe it is worth.”

Another major obstacle is the outgoers scheme, described as a major concession by BS. Under it, a grower will be paid for relinquished contract tonnage and other growers can bid for it.

However, says Mr Twidale, some tonnage will have to be given back to BS. And growers wanting additional tonnage will have to meet contract at least four years out of five, a target which those wishing to retain existing tonnage will also have to meet, he adds.

Many other points need to be reformed and modernised, says Mr Twidale. “We are now at an impasse.

“We can either accept a fudged settlement, or stand out for our principles and make our case in a Determination. We believe we have a good case and a good team to fight it.”

That could be an expensive option, warns Mr Francis. “The main issues of principle which have prevented the NFU from being able to reach a negotiated settlement have been payment for crown material and beet transport. We have conceded on these two issues.

“I believe we have answered their claim. Negotiated deals are all about compromise, and we have made major concessions.

“It is all good stuff for a negotiated settlement. If we have to go to arbitration, then all bets are off.”