Farmer Focus Arable: Beet turnout leaves no doubt about growers’ feelings, says Robert Law

The impressive turnout of almost 600 sugar beet growers at Peterborough last week left everybody in no doubt as to the strength of feeling that British Sugar’s proposed price cut for 2010 has created.

The one thing the majority agreed on is that this annual spectacle cannot continue, but if it earns us an extra pound or two we are quite happy to turn out every year. Two years ago when cereal and rape prices were up at levels never before witnessed, sugar beet looked the poor relation.

Growers at that time were able to purchase permanent quota for £1/t, which some with a longer term vision did while others, mesmerised by high cereal prices, did not.

For the 2009 crop, with cereal and rape prices dramatically lower, a lot of growers took on temporary beet quota. These growers are now realising the full meaning of the word ‘temporary’, a point emphasised by BS at last week’s meeting.

The realisation that this tonnage might not be issued again for 2010, or contracts offered at price levels that makes the crop uneconomical, has led several growers who had temporary tonnage in 2009, or have applied for some in 2010, to take advantage of excellent conditions and sow land destined for beet with oilseed rape while the drilling window is still open.

If some temporary tonnage is offered on bioethanol contracts at the £19-23 level I have heard spoken about, it wouldn’t look very enticing for many growers.

The advanced state of fieldwork in this area was perhaps borne out by the number of farmers who turned out for the opening local derby between Royston and Cambridge Veterans.

Not long into the game it became evident who had been hibernating in a combine cab for the last six weeks and who the barn boys were.

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