Farmer Focus: Sugar infrastructure under threat, reckons Jim Alston

“You know I don’t believe you when you say that you don’t need me. It’s much too late to find you think you’ve changed your mind. You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry. Don’t you want me baby? Don’t you want me – oh?”

They might be humming this Human League song from the 1980s in the boardroom of British Sugar come next spring.

Back then both grower and processor did well, but now that “win-win” position has been compromised at great risk to the industry.

Most growers I have spoken to are planning on keeping a toe in the sugar bowl, but the acreages planned for 2009 will be drastically cut.

BS may consider this a risk worth taking, but it could produce an irreversible impact on the infrastructure that gets the beet from field to factory.

Contractors and hauliers have a large and vulnerable investment in the crop, with margins dependent on keeping their machinery busy. So a reduced area could have real ramifications.

Should even a small part of the structure pack up and leave, the net effect will be reduced capacity and a significant increase in charges to attract them back.

I, like many others, have a limited investment in beet. I don’t own an expensive harvester nor do I cart the crop myself. The only machinery not employable in another crop is my drill.

The fact is that £24/t doesn’t cover costs. £26 is still not enough and comes with so many ifs and buts that it doesn’t touch the fixed price contracts offered for alternatives.

The word in the fields (as rapper Jay Z might have it) is:

A good deal it’s not

Reallocate the pot

Profit there ain’t

Partners we ain’t

Sugar you ain’t


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