Sugar closures threaten to engulf more growers

Hundreds of sugar-beet growers across East Anglia could be caught up in the knock-on effects of British Sugar’s decision to close two factories at Allscott and York.

A potential deal allowing producers in the west Midlands and Yorkshire to grow beet after the closures next year could see eastern region farmers who supply three further factories forced to completely reorganise their deliveries.

Up to 650 of the 1850 growers who currently supply Allscott and York are believed to be considering an expected offer that would enable them to deliver beet to British Sugar’s Newark factory for the 2007/08 season (News, 28 July).

Details of the offer – for one year only – have yet to be unveiled. But it would give growers hit by the closures an extra 12 months to wind down their operations, adjust cropping and plan for the future.

NFU sugar board chairman John Hoyles said:

“Growers have indicated that they want to grow beet for 2007 so they have another year to write off costs, depreciate their machinery and make the best of what is a very bad situation.”

But Newark, which processes 1.2m tonnes of beet a year, lacks the capacity to cope with the extra deliveries.

This means some of its existing 850 suppliers would have to send beet instead to Wissington – some 75 miles away in Norfolk.

In turn, some growers supplying Wissington would have to send beet to factories at Bury St Edmunds or Cantley – a combination of prospects that Mr Hoyles suggested many farmers would find unsatisfactory.

Eastern growers also criticised the idea.

“I would be extremely unhappy if I had to send beet 60 miles to Wissington,” said Mark Ireland, who farms 16 miles from Newark at Rauceby.

“It’s simple logistics and it makes no sense.”

Forcing farmers to send beet further than necessary would also breach the Inter Professional Agreement between British Sugar and farmers which gives producers the right to deliver to their nearest factory, Mr Ireland added.

The NFU and British Sugar are due to discuss future arrangements on Monday (7 August).

But Mr Hoyles said he believed a better solution would be to offer growers a decent compensation package so they could stop growing beet with dignity.

Progress is slow, but both sides say an agreement is near.

So far, however, it is understood that British Sugar’s compensation offer is about 1m (40-50p/t) lower than growers are willing to accept.

A British Sugar spokesman declined to comment on the situation.

“These are details about what growers are going to be offered, so I wouldn’t like to speculate until something has been decided,” he told Farmers Weekly.

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