Leasing system aims to check rhizomania risk

By Philip Clarke

A NEW system for transferring contract tonnage between growers is being developed by the NFU and British Sugar to help in the continuing battle against rhizomania.

The Rhizomania Stewardship Scheme would allow producers affected by the disease to lease out part or all of their sugar beet areas on an annual basis, as an alternative to compensation.

“We are finding more repeat outbreaks of rhizomania and this is pushing up the cost of compensation,” NFU sugar beet chairman, Matt Twidale told farmers weekly.

“At some point growers in some parts of the country, which do not have a rhizomania problem, are going to say they do not want to carry on paying.”

The compensation, which pays the full value of any crop destroyed, is producer funded, coming out of everyones beet cheques.

After discussions with British Sugar, a letter has now been sent by the NFU to growers setting out the details of the proposals.

“From 2000, affected growers would be able to temporarily assign their sugar beet contract to be grown on unaffected farms. This would be an annual commercial transaction which would not affect the growers annual right to contract,” says the letter.

This would operate in conjunction with the existing containment policy, with the aim of maintaining the UKs “rhizomania-free” status and the associated import controls.

The scheme also envisages that compensation would still be available in the year of outbreak.

British Sugar is backing the plan. “The current containment policy has been a success,” said agriculture director Chris Carter.

“In the past 11 years we have only had 100 contracts (on 4000ha) affected by rhizomania. This extension should ensure the long-term security of the UK industry.”

Eastern counties land agents, Bidwells, believes there will be a ready uptake of the scheme.

“Given that there will be no compensation in the year following an outbreak, it is likely to prove an unacceptable risk for affected growers to continue production,” said the firms Richard Warburton.

He anticipates an annual lease value of about £8 to £15/t, depending on the differential between A/B and C beet prices, the relative profitability of other crops and the individual growers views on optimum enterprise size.

Even though British Sugar would administer the scheme, Bidwells is aiming to establish an independent brokerage service between growers, and has developed a computer model calculating the effects on farm profitability of assigning or buying contracts.

  • Talks between the NFU and British Sugar for a general transfer system are currently on ice

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