Farmer Focus: Never have I felt so unvalued by British Sugar

We’re not a lot further on with drilling than a month ago, but we have at least got some done for others on drier land. A third of our winter combinables are left to sow.

Some sugar beet may be lifted earlier than planned, to give us somewhere to sow the wheat that was destined for much heavier ground following oats.

At present this is utterly saturated, and glistens like the Blackpool illuminations.  

See also: Defra tells NFU and British Sugar to resume beet price talks

About the author

Andrew Wilson
Arable Farmer Focus writer Andrew Wilson is a fourth-generation tenant of Castle Howard Estate in North Yorkshire. The farm supports crops of wheat, barley, oats, beans, sugar beet, potatoes, and grass for hay across 250ha. Other enterprises include bed and breakfast pigs, environmental stewardship, rooftop solar and contracting work.  
Read more articles by Andrew Wilson

Spring oats usually follow beet here. Winter beans may become spring beans. Spring oats may go in a wet field after potatoes instead of wheat, to make harvest 2025 simpler in that land block.  

It’s a bit too early for rash decisions and too wet to do anything about it. There are always options. Patience is key. 

It is also just possible that a good third of the 20ha planned for sugar beet in 2024 gets planted with winter beans, such is my dismay with the way British Sugar is currently behaving over the 2024 price negotiations.  

We’ve grown beet for more years than I’ve been alive, through thick and thin, but never have I felt so unvalued by a customer.   

Input prices continue to rise, and crop performance has both stalled and become far more variable in the past five years than before.

In the past three years, my adjusted beet yield has varied from 58.8t/ha to 77.3t/ha.  
The peaks have stopped climbing, but the troughs have got more painful, and our beet contract needs to reflect this.  

To think that growers would roll over and accept an extra 50p/t over the initial £37.50, offered as a minimum beet price back in September, was optimistic at best.

To then add some unattractive small print caveats into the “bargain” and sidestep the agreed negotiation process with NFU Sugar has angered me significantly. 

I will not sign anything until the results of the negotiations are full and final, and I urge others to do the same. 

Potato lifting has been a slog, but here it is 97% complete, with some crop moved on time, some early, and some agreed to store longer than planned.

More of that next month. I’m off to go drill a hole in my rain gauge…