Organic beet to counter cane imports?

23 March 2001

Organic beet to counter cane imports?

ORGANIC sugar beet will be grown by 27 growers on 327ha (808 acres) for processing this autumn. With a 55% price premium, net margin could be almost double that of the conventional crop.

The move is designed to stem fast-rising imports of organic cane sugar. "Demand from industrial customers is growing strongly in the UK," says British Sugar commercial manager Simon Leeds. "We currently ship in around 4000t from half-way across the world."

Price for UK organic beet will be 45% higher than the A&B adjusted price, with a further 10% top-up in the first year, giving a total premium of 55%. BS will also pay for transport to its Newark factory where a campaign within a campaign will process organic beet in November.

Assuming a yield of 44t/ha for organic and 55t/ha for conventional beet and a 55% premium lifting the price from £28 to £47.59/adjusted tonne, BS says the organic crop can give a total output of £2094/ha compared with £1540 from a conventional crop.

That provides a net margin, excluding rent and finance, of £941.45/ha, compared with £516.15 for conventional beet.

Only Roberta and Latoya will be available without chemical seed treatment this year. Part-priming by steeping in hot water will speed emergence, to help reduce weed and virus yellows pressure.

Area is expected to double for 2002, then rise 40-50% year-on-year, accounting for several thousand hectares within a decade. Organic contracts are in addition to existing individual quotas.

BBRO-funded trials show economic returns can be achieved given good establishment on reasonably fertile sites with few soil pests. Acceptable weed control is possible, but can be costly.

Last year at Blankney in Lincs, an organic crop yielded 47.5t/ha at 16% sugar. Weed control by hand and tractor hoeing cost £183/ha. Higher weed pressure at Lode, Cambs, meant 37.3t/ha was harvested after spending £504/ha on weed control. But at West Acre, Norfolk the crop lacked vigour due to poor nutrition so was unable to compete with vigorous weeds. Despite spending £666/ha on weed control yield was only 23.3t/ha.


&#8226 4000t imports and rising.

&#8226 New quota for 327ha this year.

&#8226 55% price premium.

&#8226 £941/ha net margin.

&#8226 Fast establishment vital.

&#8226 Manual weed control costly.

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