British Sugar sees sugar output drop more than 10%

Britain’s sugar beet harvest is set to see sugar production fall more than 10% compared with last season, due to widespread virus yellows disease and a severe spring drought.

The sugar beet processor British Sugar says that six weeks into the beet harvesting campaign, white sugar production will be well down on the 1.19m tonnes of sugar last season.

“At this early stage, a reduction of well over 10% in sugar production is expected next year,” the group said in a statement.

See also: Video: Early sugar beet yields good despite drought and virus

Lower yields 

Last month, British Sugar was forecasting that national beet yields would be down 10-15% from the five-year average of 75t/ha, with early sugar contents also lower than normal.

England’s 3,000-plus sugar beet farmers who grow 103,000ha of beet have suffered from high numbers of virus yellows-carrying aphids moving into crops, as well as very dry weather in the spring.

This is the second year UK beet growers have had to grow the crop without neonicotinoid seed treatments and they have a limited number of sprays to try and control aphids. France has eased a ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments to try to save its sugar beet sector, which has seen crops ravaged by aphids this year with widespread yield losses of between 25-50% 

UK farming unions have urged Defra secretary George Eustice to introduce a derogation to allow UK growers to use neonicotinoid seed treatments in future growing seasons – but it remains unclear whether the government will respond to such calls.

Two British Sugar beet processing factory areas based around Wissington, west Norfolk, and Newark, Nottinghamshire, appear to be showing more signs of virus yellows than its two other factory areas around Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and Cantley, east Norfolk.

The company added that EU sugar production is also expected to be down, again due to virus yellows and drought, and production volumes are estimated to be below consumption levels. It added that lower EU sugar production in the past two harvests has led to EU sugar prices increasing.

British Sugar gave its update as its parent company, Associated British Foods, announced its annual results for the financial year ending 12 September 2020.

UK sugar beet harvests

Year White sugar production Beet yields Beet area
2017 1.37m tonnes 83.4t/ha  
2018 1.15m tonnes 69t/ha  
2019 1.19m tonnes 78t/ha 100,000ha
2020 Down well over 10%    103,000ha

NOTE: The record crop of 1.45m tonnes of white sugar was harvested in 2014

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