British Sugar to focus on the east

BRITISH Sugar is to focus its UK beet processing operations largely in the East of England, it was revealed yesterday.

BRITISH Sugar is to focus its UK beet processing operations largely in the East of England, it was revealed yesterday.

The company dealt a major blow to around 2,000 beet growers in the West Midlands and Yorkshire by announcing the closure of two long-established sugar factories at Allscott, in Shropshire, and York, which together employ more than 200 people.

From the end of next winter's annual processing campaign, British Sugar plans to consolidate its UK operations into four locations including its plant in Bury St Edmunds, its two factories in Norfolk, at Cantley and Wissington, plus its Newark site Nottinghamshire.

With British Sugar also planning to purchase 83,000 tonnes of additional sugar quota available in the UK as a result of reform of the European Union sugar regime, the company expects to increase production at the four remaining sites from the 2007-08 campaign.

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This improves the outlook for beet growers in East Anglia who also face the prospect of drastic cuts in the price they receive for their crop as a result of the EU reforms taking effect this year.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) yesterday described the closures as a “kick in the teeth” for its members in the West Midlands and Yorkshire, who now face losing contracts to supply British Sugar as the cost of transporting beet further south would be prohibitive.

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The NFU also pledged to negotiate the “best possible compensation package” from British Sugar parent group Associated British Foods.

An NFU spokesman said: “The timing is a bolt from the blue. Sugar beet is the most profitable of the mainstream arable products and whatever farmers do instead is not going to return as much as sugar.”

The two sites earmarked for closure are likely to shut for good at the end of the 2006-07 production campaign, which runs from September to February and involves round-the-clock processing.

The York factory dates from 1926 while the Allscott site was built a year later.

A spokesman for British Sugar said the Allscott factory lacked the scale necessary for it to be run economically, while the York closure reflected poorer crop yields in the north of England and the cuts in sugar beet prices.

Mainland Europe has already seen a wave of factory closures following the sweeping reforms to the EU's 40-year-old sugar regime which have led to an efficiency drive across the industry.

The reforms are designed in large part to end alleged “dumping” of subsidised sugar production on world export markets although, unlike the other leading sugar producing member states in the EU, the UK is a substantial net importer of sugar.

British Sugar provides only around half of the UK's sugar requirement, the rest being imported. The company currently works with some 7,000 beet suppliers and processes an estimated nine million tonnes of sugar beet during the annual campaign.

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