Beet industry celebrates record sugar production

FARMERS and food producers are celebrating record sugar production after a catastrophic harvest last year.

British Sugar’s four factories, including one at Bury St Edmunds, have processed a record 1.3m tonnes of sugar in the centenary year of the home-grown industry.

With four days to the official end of the latest campaign, 4,000 growers in eastern England will deliver record sugar beet yields to refineries.

Near-perfect growing conditions after the earliest start to planting last spring and the dry, warm weather through the latest five-month harvesting campaign, have enabled record beet yields to be achieved.

British Sugar managing director Gino de Jaegher said: “We will see a record 1.3m tonnes of sugar processed – the most we have ever done from four factories. What a difference a year makes.”

The catastrophic losses caused by sub-zero temperatures last year, when growers estimate that about one million tonnes of beet worth more than �30m were lost, also cost British Sugar in higher processing costs and reduced sugar production.

Growers have harvested four record yields in the past seven years.

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The two Norfolk British Sugar factories are expected to receive final deliveries on Saturday and processing will be completed over the weekend. The second largest factory, Bury St Edmunds, “sliced out” last week and Newark in Nottinghamshire will finish later on Monday.

“The average sugar content for the campaign will be just over 18pc and again the sugars at this time of year have probably never been higher,” said central agricultural business manager Robin Limb.

The home-grown sugar industry, which is regarded as the most efficient in Europe, has made dramatic improvements in crop yield in the past decades.

Beet growers’ leader William Martin, who represents sugar farmers, said the industry had a bright future and was already producing higher yields than many cane growing countries.

“It is generally agreed that one of the reasons that the UK had such a good crop last year was because we had an almost the earliest drilling date ever. It is nice to bounce back in such stylish fashion,” said Mr Limb.

British Sugar produced a record 1.59m tonnes of sugar in the 1997 campaign before EU reforms led to closure of factories and a reduction in the sugar beet area.