Stand firm on sugar beet price, growers urged

The NFU is urging sugar beet growers to stand united after British Sugar sent farmers contracts for the 2014 crop – without union approval.

The sugar beet offer documents have been sent to growers even though NFU Sugar has rejected British Sugar’s price offer of £30.67/t for 2014.

The union is holding out for £35.50/t, saying anything less fails to recognise the risks associated with production of the crop and the increasingly long sugar beet season.

British Sugar defended its actions, saying its Inter-professional Agreement (IPA) with the NFU required it to issue contract offer documents to growers on or before 30 June.

But the move has angered union leaders, who say NFU Sugar has a clear mandate to negotiate with British Sugar on behalf of growers.

Farmers Weekly has also spoken to growers who are concerned that the contract offer states that all seed for 2014 will be X-Beet Plus, treated by British Sugar sister company Germains.

Growers feel that this pre-judges the outcome of an independent investigation examining why some sugar beet crops failed to emerge properly this spring.

NFU Sugar vice chairman Robert Law said: “Our advice to growers is to make your own decision, stand firm and do not to be bullied by British Sugar.”

More than 350 growers representing 2.8m tonnes of sugar beet production attended an NFU Sugar meeting at the East of England showground on 18 June, he added.

Mr Law said NFU Sugar was ready to discuss the pricing issue with British Sugar but the processing giant was refusing to engage with the union.

Growers were 100% supportive of the NFU’s stance, said Mr Law.

British Sugar said its offer of £30.67/t represened an ex-gratia payment of £3.00/t over and above the agreed mechanism price of £27.67/t.

British Sugar agriculture director Colm McKay said the company wanted to pay growers a price that provided a favourable margin for beet.

But it also had to remain competitive against other sugar producers.

“We are very disappointed we have been unable to reach agreement with the NFU regarding the price for the coming year’s sugar beet contract,” said Mr McKay.

The NFU’s request to increase the price to £35.50/tonne was not justified and would risk damaging the longer term prospects of our industry, he added.

“At the price levels being suggested by the NFU, the industry would be put in an unviable position for the future,” said Mr McKay.

British Sugar appreciated that crop margins needed to adequately recognise the risks involved, allowed for any follow on crop effects and still compared favourably with alternative crops.

“Our offer combined with the recent agreements for frost insurance, enhanced late delivery payments and planned investment in our factories addresses this for the great majority of growers.”

Mr McKay added: “We would encourage all growers to work out their own margins, using the example pricing we have provided, to help them come to a decision that works for their farm.”

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