Beet contracts stand – but only for Newark

Sugar-beet growers supplying the Allscott and York factories, earmarked for closure at the end of the coming season, will be offered new contracts for 2007/08 – but only for delivery to the next nearest factory, at Newark.

The commitment was given during talks between the NFU and British Sugar earlier this week.

But it is still not clear whether the extra haulage will be paid in part or in full by the processor, or whether growers will have to bear the extra transport cost.

It is also understood that the two sides are negotiating “transitional measures”, which should include some kind of outgoers’ scheme.

“The aim is to have a series of options agreed in the next week and to communicate with growers as quickly as possible after that,” said NFU senior sugar adviser Helen Kirkman.

“The possibility of continuing to grow will be one of the choices available to disenfranchised growers.”

But British Sugar is adamant that there is no going back on its decision to close the two factories or to change the timescale.

As well as meeting with NFU representatives this week to discuss the factory closures and future pricing issues, British Sugar head of agriculture Karl Carter also hosted meetings with two small focus groups from Allscott and York.

Herefordshire farmer Nigel Roper was one of four Allscott suppliers making the trip to Peterborough.

“We called a spade a spade and said how underhand we felt British Sugar had acted,” he told Farmers Weekly.

“There was no consultation and the decision has come too late for many growers who have already planned their 2007 cropping.

“We have already made land agreements and don’t know whether we will need them or be able to get out of them.”

Mr Roper said British Sugar had indicated that it would offer some form of compensation to local growers.

“Whether that will be British Sugar buying our quota outright or giving us a token payment then leaving it to us to sell it to growers in the eastern counties on the open market we don’t know.

“We believe British Sugar is being very short-sighted by abandoning growing in the west and seriously doubt growers in the east will produce the extra 1m tonnes of beet, especially if wheat prices climb higher.”