Brussels aims to cut more sugar

Sugar beet growers are to be given the opportunity to surrender their quotas directly to Brussels, under new EU proposals intended to cut surpluses and reduce the need for export subsidies.

The move follows the failings of the current EU restructuring scheme, which was supposed to take out 6m tonnes of sugar, but in its first two years has only seen 2.2m tonnes given up.

To make the scheme more effective, and so avoid the need for across-the-board quota cuts, the commission has tabled a number of proposals.

These include a plan to allow growers to apply directly for aid from the EU restructuring fund. The compensation would be shared out, with 90% going to processors and 10% to farmers and contractors. But in a new development, growers would also get a “top-up”, worth €237/t (£161/t) of sugar quota renounced in 2008/09.

The NFU said it supported the move to get the EU reform back on track. But it has serious concerns over the practical implementation that could render the scheme worthless to growers.

In particular, a clause in the proposal suggests that, if a particular factory wants to surrender 10% or more of its quota, then this will override any producer applications.

“Since the proposals encourage processors to renounce up to 13.5% by offering financial incentives, this is the most likely outcome,” said NFU chief sugar adviser Helen Kirkman. “This would take the initiative away from growers and yet again put processors in the driving seat.”

Ms Kirkman also remarked on the level of “top-up” being proposed – €237/t for sugar, equivalent to £30/t for beet. While the NFU has supported the idea of a top-up, it acknowledges that that, at these levels, it would be hard to imagine there would be much beet production left in the EU.

The NFU was also concerned that the commission wants these payments to be retrospective, so that producers who have already given up quota within the EU restructuring scheme would get the top-up. This would be of no benefit to former Allscott and York producers, who were forced to give up their tonnage without EU compensation.

The commission’s proposals were discussed by EU farm ministers and the European parliament earlier this week. A decision is expected in September.

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