More growers back NFU over beet prices

The number of growers backing an NFU campaign for a better sugar beet price continues to rise, the union has said.


Farmers growing 4.9m tonnes of sugar beet have now signed up to the drive for a better price from British Sugar for the 2014 beet crop, said the NFU.


The processing giant needs more than 7m tonnes annually.


The NFU has rejected a British Sugar offer of £30.67/t for the 2014 crop – itself £3/t over the agreed formula price of £27.67/t.


Growers feel the price offered is insufficient, unreasonable and fails to reflect the realities of growing sugar beet, said NFU sugar vice-chairman Robert Law.


“Growers have repeatedly told the NFU that they need a bigger premium over other crops to account for the higher risks of growing it compared to alternatives.”


Growers representing more than 2.8m tonnes of beet unanimously supported the NFU position during a meeting at Peterborough last month.


Since then farmers growing a further 2.1m tonnes of beet have pledged their support via the NFU sugar website at www.nfusugar.com.


“If growers allow British Sugar to bypass negotiations when it suits them, British Sugar will begin to think there is no need to negotiate at all and that they can just send out contracts to individual growers every year and then pick us off one by one.”
Robert Law, NFU sugar vice-chairman

British Sugar has given growers until 31 July to sign contracts to grow beet and said growers not returning their contracts run the risk of not being offered a contract for 2014 or in the future.


But Mr Law said: “If we stand united we can finally push to achieve a fair and reasonable price for our beet, which has been eroded over many years.”


It was about more than deciding whether the 2014-15 price was suitable; it was about whether farmers were going to allow British Sugar to unilaterally impose prices and conditions on growers.


“If growers allow British Sugar to bypass negotiations when it suits them, British Sugar will begin to think there is no need to negotiate at all and that they can just send out contracts to individual growers every year and then pick us off one by one.


“If growers sign contracts for a price which is not supported by the NFU, it makes further negotiation all but impossible this year, and a real challenge in future.”


British Sugar said it wanted to pay growers a price that provided a favourable margin but at the same time had to remain competitive against other sugar producers.


The £30.67/t offer related to the guaranteed base price for contracted beet, before late delivery bonuses/payments had been applied.


An industrial tonnage contract entitlement price, also at £30.67, plus late delivery payments would also be payable.


So too would a guaranteed minimum surplus beet price for 2014-15 of at least £25.00/t plus late delivery payments.


British Sugar agriculture director Colm McKay said: “At the price levels being suggested by the NFU, the industry would be put in an unviable position for the future.”


British Sugar recognised the need for a margin that dequately recognised the risks involved, allowed for any follow on crop effects and compared favourably with alternative crops, said Mr McKay.


Combined with recent agreements for frost insurance, enhanced late delivery payments and planned investment in our factories, the British Sugar price offer addressed this for most growers, he added.


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