William Martin, is NFU Sugar Board chairman and farms 1000 acres in the Cambridgeshire Fens.
Building a long-term relationship with a customer was never going to be easy, but the NFU’s Sugar Board certainly didn’t expect there to be so many big, early challenges to our new and improving relationship with British Sugar.
The devastating consequences of the prolonged and severe cold weather during December are the most pressing challenge, and we are working with British Sugar to try to salvage what we can.
The announcement of the beet price for 2011 – the first to be calculated using the newly agreed formula – was followed by the huge rise in the prices of alternative commodities.
While growers, on the whole, remain loyal to the sugar beet crop, this – together with the recent difficult events – has combined to cause renewed uncertainty about its future on some farms.
The difficulties facing the current campaign are evolving daily. At the time of writing, we are dealing with the implications of British Sugar’s decision to suspend deliveries from Newark beet growers. We insisted that British Sugar holds a meeting to talk to Newark growers directly, and this was due to take place yesterday (27 January).
But communications are not enough; resources need to be made available to get British Sugar on as many farms as possible, assessing crops and taking in all processable beet.
The fall-out from this is also being considered. There is no doubt that growers and British Sugar are feeling the effects, but this situation is an opportunity for British Sugar to strengthen its relationship with growers by demonstrating a true partnership.
It is important to recognise the real efforts being made by growers to deliver their processable beet under difficult circumstances.
And it is important to have a full discussion about the effects of the late factory openings at Bury and Cantley, which have had a knock-on effect on the amount of beet delivered in those areas.
This situation is also taking the NFU into unusual territory. We are talking to the RPA to improve the cashflow of affected growers by early SPS payments. And we will be talking to banks and county councils to discuss the current difficulties and seek extension of terms with affected growers.
The NFU Sugar Board remains firmly committed to working with British Sugar to maximise the long-term value of the sugar beet crop for growers. We will deal firmly and fairly with the current crisis, but we will not be deflected from our goal.
British Sugar has stated its intention that over the long-term, sugar beet should be competitive with the most attractive broad acre arable crops, and the NFU will hold it to that promise.