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East of England: British Sugar announced £100m investment programme in factories over next three years

16:00 22 February 2014

Speaker Adam Quinney, National Farmers Union vice president at last year

Speaker Adam Quinney, National Farmers Union vice president at last year's Norfolk Farming Conference

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A £100million investment programme in British Sugar’s factories across eastern England over the next three years has been announced.

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Colm McKay, director of agriculture, told about 250 delegates gathered for the Norfolk Farming Conference at the John Innes Conference Centre, of plans to invest an initial £50m plus further investment to prepare for the ending of Europe’s sugar quotas from 2017.

“We need top have confidence that we can cope with seasons when the beet quality is not ideal. “With this in mind, we’re investing close to £50m this season and anticipate similar investment levels in the coming three years,” he added.

The investments included an energy reduction project, control system replacement, and thick juice import and export capability at Cantley. Last December, a total of 270 tonnes of energy-saving equipment was transported by barge from Lille in northern France as part of the estimated £12m investment.

Mr McKay said that the Wissington factory, near Downham Market, which is the world’s largest beet processing refinery, will also benefit from the investment in a refurbished diffuser and increased filtration capacity. The projects at Bury St Edmunds, which was the second largest factory, include increased juice tank capacity while a new animal feed drier will be installed at Newark, Nottinghamshire.

“This shows that we’re serious about increasing factory input and our reliability,” he added.

British Sugar had invested significantly over the years with about £300m invested since 2005, said Mr McKay. It was worth remembering that the home-grown industry produced a record 1.3m tonnes of sugar in 2011.

He told delegates that the home-grown sugar industry had boosted crop productivity by more than 60pc since 1980 and that British Sugar’s factories had cut energy use by 25pc in the past quarter of a century. Mr McKay said that British Sugar’s costs of production was competitive with other beet producers and increasingly with top cane producers around the world.

However, he warned that the ending of Europe’s sugar quotas from October 1, 2017 was likely to see a further slide in prices. A combination of more competition from European producers and a further slide in the world price, which had already fallen from 36 cents per lb to the present 15 cents or about £220 tonne were likely to put beet prices under pressure. “I realise that this is a very stark message,” he added.

Mr McKay told growers that British Sugar “wanted to have an appropriate campaign length that maintained beet as an attractive crop to growers while also us to make efficient use of our assets.” Further, the continuing increase in average yields was a welcome trend.

Beet growers’ leader William Martin, who farms 1,000 acres at Littleport, near Ely, said that some aspects of Mr McKay’s paper had not exactly “been a bundle of laughs.”

It was also announced that two Norfolk beet growers, Andrew Ross, of Edgefield, an Tim Young, of Hockwold, had been elected to the National Farmers’ Union’s sugar board and Lincolnshire grower Nick Wells had been re-elected.

Anglia Farmers’ chief executive Clarke Willis reported that members of the agricultural buying group had given more than £20,000 to help transport fodder to the West Country. A remarkable £10,000 had been pledged in the first 48 hours, he said.

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