Growers face delivering own beet due to HGV driver shortage

Sugar beet growers may have to rely on their own tractors and trailers to transport their crop to the factory this campaign because of a national shortage of HGV drivers.

NFU Sugar and British Sugar issued the stark warning to growers as this year’s sugar beet lifting campaign got under way with the opening of the Bury St Edmunds processing factory on 16 September.

British Sugar’s beet processing factory in Newark, Nottinghamshire will open on 21 September. Then the two Norfolk factories at Wissington and Cantley will open on 28 September and 12 October, respectively.

See also: Sugar beet growers have one season left with key fungicide

This week, both organisations released a joint statement to beet growers across England, urging them to prepare for a shortage of lorry drivers this lifting season.

The Road Haulage Association estimates there is a shortfall of around 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK – and this may result in beet growers struggling to find drivers to transport harvested beet from the farm to the factories.

The NFU has joined a coalition of 12 industry bodies calling for a 12-month Covid-19 Recovery Visa to tackle worker shortages, not just in haulage, but across the food supply chain.

NFU Sugar board vice-chair Simon Smith said: “I believe it is very likely that more growers will have to rely on their own tractors and trailers for transporting beet to the factory this campaign.

“I’d like to remind growers of the importance of making sure that machinery is correctly matched and maintenance schedules are followed, including regular checks of brakes and hitch mechanisms.”

Scenarios

  • NFU Sugar and British Sugar described the possible scenarios that could affect some growers including:
  • Delays of collection of cereal crops by up to six weeks could have a knock-on effect on collection of beet
  • Loss of lorry drivers due to Covid-19 isolation or from market competition could delay planned beet collections at very short notice
  • Difficulties sourcing your usual haulier, or an alternative, due to competition for haulage across all sectors
  • A rise in haulage rates compared to the previous year

Driver shortage

Ian Brumpton, of family-run agricultural haulage company LJ Brumpton and Son, said he was expecting a “challenging” lifting season due to the shortage of truck drivers.

The company runs a fleet of six tractors covering beet collections from farms across north Lincolnshire and delivering to the Newark factory, starting next week.

Mr Brumpton said: “There is definitely going to be an impact because people have not got the resources or the drivers. Weekend cover and casual drivers are in short supply.

“The haulage system in the agriculture sector in general is struggling. The rise in costs of everything from vehicles, insurance, tyres, is driving wages up.”

NFU Sugar and British Sugar have published advice to help beet growers mitigate the effect of the driver shortage.

This includes planning for haulage contractors now, making contingency plans, and agreeing rates in advance.

For additional help, call the NFU CallFirst on 0370 845 8458 or speak to British Sugar Grower Services on freephone 0800 090 2376.

Tractor and trailer best practice – a reminder

The NFU has reminded sugar beet growers who intend to deliver beet to factories of the importance of machinery safety.

Machinery must be correctly matched and maintenance schedules followed, including regular checks of brakes and hitch mechanisms.

The NFU has also released the following checklist:

  • Ensure tractors and trailers are maintained according to manufacturers’ schedules and records kept
  • Check insurance covers you for additional transport work
  • Ensure that tractor and trailer lights are working correctly and are clean
  • Ensure cab windows and mirrors are clean and intact
  • Regularly check trailer hitch eyes for wear
  • Make sure flashing orange beacons are fitted and used when legally required
  • Keep trailer loads within manufacturers’ capacity ratings

Safety on the road: 

  • Pull in when safe to do so, to let following traffic overtake
  • Ensure tractor drivers watch out for impatient drivers trying to overtake when tractors slow down to turn right into fields and farm tracks
  • Plan transport routes carefully to avoid congested roads and peak traffic times
  • Make sure tractors are correctly matched to trailer weights, have compatible braking systems, and comply with the complex laws governing tractor and trailer weights, distances travelled, axle combinations, braking systems and speed limits
  • Provide tractor drivers with training on farm equipment and maintenance schedules
  • Make sure tractor seat belts are in good condition and used by drivers
  • Make sure drivers take regular breaks to avoid fatigue
  • Instruct tractor drivers not to use mobile phones while driving

Emergency sugar beet neonic treatment submitted

The sugar beet industry has applied for emergency authorisation for beet growers to use neonicotinoid-treated seed next spring.

The application for Syngenta’s Cruiser SB to be used on sugar beet seed in 2022 will be considered at a meeting of the Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) on 28 September.

Growers are seeking permission from Defra to use the seed treatment to protect sugar beet crops from virus yellows disease, which is spread by aphids surviving a mild winter and can rob yields by as much as 80%, as was the case in 2020.

Defra approved the application for emergency use of SB Cruiser on sugar beet seed for crops sown last year.

However, a cold winter meant aphid activity was low and the threshold level through the Rothamsted Virus Yellows model was not met. Therefore, neonicotinoid-treated seed was not required.

It is not yet possible to predict virus levels for next spring and beet growers want to be able to protect the 2022 crop if required.

 

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