Farmer Focus Arable: Philip Bradshaw wants beet prices to improve

It’s pleasing to see autumn-sown crops growing properly in the warmer temperatures, and with the benefit of recent April showers. I doubt that we have the yield potential we enjoyed this time last year, but kind weather from now will be a positive step forward.

Recent rain has helped even up our sugar beet establishment a little, and it was nice to see the rows showing in one field while spraying for weed control last week.

The first herbicide – on this occasion a modest dose of phenmedipham, ethofumesate and metamitron – is a very important part of the integrated weed control strategy for the crop, with timing all-important to reduce later herbicide use.

As I bounced back from the field, noting the need to repair the roadway damaged by last year’s beet harvesting traffic before we can consider harvesting this crop, I got to thinking again about the hidden costs and economics of growing sugar beet.

I have written before of my thoughts every year on whether to plant it. I know most growers face this annual dilemma, and I feel that this culture of indecision is unsustainable and certainly not a professional way for the industry to go forward.

The NFU sugar team is warming up for another bout of negotiation with British Sugar, whose chairman William Martin recently wrote to growers and detailed the priorities, including the obvious issue of beet pricing.

I am sure most of us involved would like to plan for longer-term sugar beet growing, stop thinking of doing so one year at a time, and invest in the crop again.

But for this to happen, we need a sensible and appropriate figure for the beet price – one that starts with a three, not a two.

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