An estimated 5,000 sugar beet growers from 21 member states filled the streets of Brussels today in protest at the commission’s proposals for reform.
As EU farm ministers met to debate the plans, a noisy gathering made itself heard in the streets outside. Among their number were around 100 British farmers urging their fellow Europeans to “shout for sugar”.
Nigel Roper from Herefordshire who, like many, had got up at 3.00 in the morning to catch a plane to Brussels, said the price cuts on the table would cripple his business. He grows around 500 acres of sugar beet, a third of his arable acreage, near Ross on Wye. “We do all the operations ourselves including haulage and it keeps the staff busy for 5 months in the winter. Without sugar beet 3 jobs would go”.
Yorkshire grower Michael Craven said he accepted the need for reform. “But we need a price of around £20/t and full compensation to have any chance of survival.” The commission has suggested £17/t and 60% compensation.
Mr Craven also feared that under the UK system this compensation would be shared among all farmers not just sugar beet growers.
Third world interests were also represented at the rally, especially those countries which currently have preferential access to the EU. Geo Govieden of the Mauritian Chamber of Agriculture described the 40% price cut as “deadly”. “One in 4 families in Mauritius is dependent on sugar in some way. This reform will only help Brazil and possibly Australia to a larger slice of the world market.”