Farmer Focus: Beet price deal springs a surprise

Our 2015 cropping plan is being revisited daily and subjected to regular tweaks. The catalyst for our current tweak is the announcement about the 2015-16 sugar beet crop.

Other growers told me they were all expecting a price drop, but it seems the scale of the cut has taken them by surprise – basically the market has spoken!

Last year’s beet crop was good for most growers and this year’s already looks as if it is going to be exceptional. The crop is normally a late developer on our chalk soils, but I have never seen it so advanced for late July than this year.

I spoke to a European beet growers’ representative at the weekend, who reported on a crop of great potential throughout Europe. With depressed sugar prices worldwide, static demand and mounting surpluses, the die has been cast for 2015-16.

However, the contract for 2015-16 does offer some flexibility for growers, with performance rules being relaxed and offers of a “contract holiday” , which is going to be in addition to the “PK” holiday many cereal growers tell me they will be having in 2015.

In 2015 we intend to produce 90-100% of our combined CTE/ICE tonnage and no excess beet, which could potentially have a very low value next season. To achieve this we will work on our average yield of the past three seasons and trim our acreage to be planted in 2015 accordingly.

Participation in the industry haulage scheme was worth £2.20/t to us last season over and above cleaning, loading and employing our own haulier. In 2015 an incentive will be offered to all growers to take up the scheme and enjoy the financial and management benefits available.

On the farm, as winter barley fields are being cleared, they are rapidly being drilled with stubble turnips for our early-lambing flock to graze in the new year, as well as the store lambs we will be purchasing over the coming months.

We have 1,000 ewes to put to the ram over the next two weeks, so really we have our new year planned already.

Great weather at present for hay and harvest, but not so ideal for pre-season training.

Robert Law, 2006 Farmers Weekly Farmer of the year, farms 1,500ha on the Hertfordshire/Essex/Cambridgeshire borders growing cereals, turnips, mustard, forage rape for seed and sugar beet, plus 300ha of grassland supporting a flock of 2,500 ewes. He also manages 500ha of Nottinghamshire sandland.

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