Almost 200 sugar beet growers have attended an NFU meeting as the price dispute with British Sugar shows no signs of ending.
Growers gathered at the Newark Showground, Nottinghamshire, on Thursday (25 July) where they were addressed by NFU Sugar chairman William Martin.
“We do not think it is unreasonable that growers should be properly rewarded for growing sugar beet,” Mr Martin told growers at the meeting.
Farmers representing almost 5m tonnes of sugar beet have now pledged their support to the NFU, which is pressing for a better price for the 2014 crop.
British Sugar requires about 7m tonnes of sugar beet annually. But the NFU has rejected a British Sugar offer of £30.67/t for the 2014 crop.
The union is holding out for £35.50/t, saying the British Sugar price fails to recognise the risks farmers take when growing sugar beet.
NFU Sugar representatives continue to hold regular meetings with British Sugar in a bid to resolve the dispute to the satisfaction of both parties.
“I still believe a sensible outcome is possible – the current standoff doesn’t have to go on indefinitely,” Mr Martin told farmers.
Growers should refrain from signing contracts before negotiations had concluded, he said.
There was no guarantee that farmers who signed a contract now with British Sugar for 2014 would get a higher price in the event that a price rise was negotiated later, said Mr Martin.
British Sugar had stated “very plainly” that it had “no intention” of removing contracts from growers who had not signed contracts by 31 July, he added.
“Growers can be confident that British Sugar will not pull the rug from under them if they choose not to sign a contract now,” Mr Martin said.
“If you want to await the outcome of our negotiations to see if there is something better, then the prudent thing to do is to delay signing.”
Mr Martin added: “Growers do not need to see 31 July as an important or artificially imposed deadline – do not feel pressurised to make a decision before the outcome is known.
“There is no externally imposed deadline that you need to worry about – give the negotiations time to do what they can do.”
British Sugar continued to insist it has offered a fair price to growers.
It said the NFU’s request to increase the price to £35.50/t was not justified and would risk damaging the longer-term prospects of the industry.
At the price levels being suggested by the NFU, the industry would be put in an inviable position for the future, it has said.
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