Grower anger at NFU/BS sugar deal

Sugar beet growers have reacted with anger and dismay to the new Inter-Professional Agreement and restructuring package agreed between the NFU and British Sugar.

The deal was presented at the started of the week, and the NFU has started a series of grower meetings to flesh out details, including one at Telford, Shropshire on Tuesday (15 August) and one in Strensall, York today.

“There was a lot of anger,” said Herefordshire grower Nigel Roper following the Shropshire meeting.

“There was a strong feeling the that the NFU should have got a better deal, though by the end of the meeting most of the anger was being directed at British Sugar”

This view was echoed by Herefordshire grower/contractor Philip Watkins who said farmers were still very upset by how things had been imposed on them by British Sugar.

“As a grower, I accept that the NFU has probably got the best deal it could under the circumstances. As a contractor, I feel I have been hung out to dry.

“The extra £4/t to get the beet to Bury St Edmunds doesn’t stack up and most of my clients will quit.

“At least my three harvesters are older machines and not worth as much as new kit.”

The new IPA sets the price of sugar beet at less than £23/t this season, falling to around £20/t next season and £19/t in 2008.

Growers supplying the Allscott and York plants have been given one more year to grow beet, though it will have to be delivered to factories in the eastern counties, with just a £4/t top up towards the extra transport cost.

Most are therefore expected to quit production, either surrendering their contracts to BS for £8/t, or selling it to the eastern counties, for which they will get £7-£7.50 from BS, plus whatever continuing growers might pay for it.

Brokers are already contacting growers to see if they want to trade their contracts. Some are suggesting a value of £3-£4/t to buy and £1-£1.50 to lease.

But Norfolk grower and NFU negotiator Ross Haddow says eastern counties growers should not rush to pay for the contracts.

“There will be a lot of tonnage on offer and growers won’t have to pay £4/t for it. At these (beet) prices, there’s no huge appetite to start expanding anyway.”

* For more detailed coverage of the new Inter-Professional Agreement and restructuring package, see this Friday’s Farmers Weekly (18 August).