New beet offer from British Sugar but still no agreement

British Sugar has revised its offer to beet growers following weeks of intensive negotiations with NFU Sugar, and is now giving producers the choice of either a £40/t fixed price for 2024-25, or its previous offer of £38/t with a market-linked bonus.

In a letter to growers, Dan Green, agriculture director at British Sugar, said it had not been able to reach final agreement with NFU Sugar on next year’s beet contract.

“The only outstanding contract term which is now disputed is around the futures contract,” said Mr Green.

See also: Defra tells NFU and British Sugar to resume beet price talks

“It is particularly disappointing that an issue which affects so few people – currently just 1% of our grower base – will delay us agreeing an offer that will benefit the vast majority.”

Some progress appears to have been made with agreeing a mechanism for future price negotiations, which will start in May each year, with the aim of agreeing a crop price by July for the following season.

A new dispute resolution process should ensure any disagreements are resolved by 31 October each year at the latest. 

British Sugar said it plans to open both its contract and seed order screens on 18 December for 2024-25, and hopes to avoid the need for arbitration.

NFU Sugar has since released an update following the announcement by British Sugar stating it has not agreed the offer British Sugar has communicated to growers, leaving the validity of any contract made in relation to this offer in doubt.

NFU Sugar Board’s chairman Michael Sly said: “With the outstanding disagreement on the contract of such small financial cost to British Sugar and yet critical to the full benefits of the contract being realised, we are astounded that British Sugar would choose to move to a costly arbitration process in preference to reaching agreement on this.

“We have only achieved the significant progress we have made with British Sugar because of the overwhelming unity and support we have had from growers.

“More than 1,300, representing over 70% of the national sugar beet tonnage, have pledged their support for the vital role NFU Sugar plays in securing a fair sugar beet price for growers.

“Last week, hundreds of growers attended NFU Sugar meetings to voice their support, and well over 500 letters have been written by growers to their constituency MPs on this issue.

“British Sugar can be in no doubt of the strength of feeling amongst beet growers and support for NFU Sugar as the growers’ collective representative body.”

Defra had been continuing to encourage both parties to follow the established process and reach a mutually acceptable outcome.

However, it is now looking more likely that it will need to take up the role as arbitrator between the two parties.

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