The NFU has criticised British Sugar for its lack of communication with growers on difficulties with this season’s beet crop.
The union’s sugar board chairman, William Martin, made the criticisms during a meeting of the NFU council in Leamington Spa on Tuesday 25 January.
“British Sugar focused on their own operational issues while failing to give growers clear information whether factories were open in the cold weather and what beet it would take,” said Mr Martin. “This led to rumour and uncertainty.”
“The Bury and Cantley factories started their seasons late to allow crops to grow on, but failed to fully inform growers.
“In the cold weather growers delivering to Newark were uncertain whether the factory was open or not and now growers are unsure whether their crops will be taken or not,” he told delegates.
Mr Martin added that the NFU was lobbying British Sugar to suspend its policy of barring delivery of next year’s beet crop from growers who did not deliver to contract this season.
“We are also speaking to the Rural Payments Agency to persuade them to prioritise single farm payments to growers who have not been able to deliver beet. We have also approached banks and landlords to make them aware of the ongoing situation.”
He praised British Sugar’s field managers and factory staff for maximising the value of the crop, but urged the company to provide growers with more information on the suitability of their crops for processing.
The union has also called for British Sugar to use its fodder bank system that gives livestock producers access to feed. However, there were warnings that any spoiled beet would have to be fed to stock within a couple of days of delivery.
Richard Hirst, NFU delegate from Norfolk, estimated that losses might be in the region of 40% in his region.
“If there is not any support from British Sugar then growers could be looking to considerably cut back on their tonnage next year.”
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There was also a call for greater research into frost resistance of various varieties, while NFU delegates asked for more guidance on ploughing in beet.
Meanwhile, there was general support for greater efforts to get spoiled beet to livestock producers as a cheap source of feed. However, livestock producers were warned that spoiled beet should be fed as quickly as possible.