Sticking with beet plans is the least worse option

The majority of sugar beet growers have little option but to drill their originally intended beet area, unless there is a definitive announcement about the size of any temporary quota cut from the European commission.

The latest indications are the cut will be around 15%, but exact details will not be known until after 2 March.

Growers have been offered a choice by British Sugar of retaining their contracted tonnage this year, which will then be corrected in 2007, or to take the quota cut this year.

With the announcement about the exact size of cut coming after British Sugar’s 28 February deadline for deciding, the most sensible option is to drill as intended, NFU senior sugar adviser Helen Kirkman said earlier this week.

Excess sugar produced as a result of the quota cut will be put into store by British Sugar at its own expense.

The agreement covers all quota cuts regardless of size and timing, but only sugar produced from quota beet, not surplus production.

“It is the safest option for growers,” British Sugar’s Robin Limb believes.

“It allows growers to plan pragmatically crops for next year.”

The alternative option – to take the cut this year – is more risky.

Once committed growers wouldn’t have the option to carry over any production into next year’s quota, even if a further cut was announced in the autumn, Ms Kirkman says.

“There is no safety blanket.”

Currently very few growers were contemplating that option, she said.

“It is not because growers particularly want to grow that amount this season, but because they don’t know the size of cut.”

An earlier announcement of the quota cut could have led to more growers considering taking the cut this season, as long as it was big enough to suggest no further autumn cuts would be necessary, she believed.

Growers with fields with bad weed beet problems should be the first target for growers considering taking the cut this season, Broom’s Barn’s Mike May says.

“Weed beet are really expensive to control – beet production will not really be sustainable in those fields at future beet prices.”

But there were no real restrictions on growing any likely alternative crops this season, even if fertiliser has already been applied.

“The main issue is if you’ve put a lot of salt on, but most growers are not over-fertilising and would have put it on in the autumn, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Spring barley is likely to be the best option, agribusiness economist Simon Ward of Increment says.

“Spring barley is the most logical substitution not least because it is often already grown in the rotation.”

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