30 November 2001

Old filters to give beet factory new lease of life

By Andrew Blake

LATEST attempt to get British Sugars troubled flagship sugar beet processing factory in Norfolk up to full speed is to install filters from the old Ipswich plant.

Frequent blockages, for as yet unknown reasons, mean over 200,000t of Wissingtons slice has been lost so far this season, BS admits.

"To address this and the continuing situation, we have put in place a diversion programme for over 300,000t of beet in order to equalise the end of campaign for the factories," says a spokesman.

"To help growers financially, payment cut off dates have been delayed by one week and of course, there will be a significant increase in payments through late delivery bonus as a result of the extended campaign. All diversion costs are being funded by British Sugar."

But the NFU wants more. "We are still waiting for a formal response on compensation," says beet committee chairman Matt Twidale. Lost sugar content, more costly late lifting and the knock-on effect of delayed drilling for following crops all need compensating, say growers.

Installing the redundant Ipswich filters will take place over the next couple of weeks and will not interrupt factory operations, stresses the BS spokesman.

The hope is that the extra filtration area will help overcome stoppages, which have been occurring two or three times a day. "But it will not solve the root cause of the problem which has yet to be identified," he adds.

"We have all available scientists working on the problem, which is probably something to do with the science of the juice. We need to know why it affects this factory and not others."

Soil type could be involved, he speculates. Most of Wissingtons intake comes from fen and silt soils. "But there are so many variables."

Coupled with the later campaign start and autumn growth, Wissingtons difficulties will extend the processing period from Feb 20 to the first week in March. &#42

PROCESSING DELAYS

&#8226 Flagship plant still suffering.

&#8226 200,000t slice lost so far.

&#8226 Basic reason still unclear.

&#8226 Redundant filters salvation?

Grower reaction

Norfolk producer Teddy Maufe welcomes the shift in payment arrangements. "Two weeks delay would have been better. But my main worry is for later on.

"Beet which should have been safely in sugar bags is going to be in the field and clamps for much longer, which risks deterioration. If we get another winter like 1963 or even 79 the problems after Christmas could be very expensive.

"Its worth noting that there is a clause in the BS contract which says beet has to be in good condition on delivery."

Farmer hauliers, such as himself, could also find themselves doubly out of pocket when they have to pay outside contractors to catch up with delivery backlogs, he warns.