Challenge to beat sugar beet costs

A five-year programme to cut the costs of growing sugar has generated some impressive results, according to British Sugar.

MICHAEL POLLITT, EDP Agricultural Editor

A five-year programme to cut the costs of growing sugar has generated some impressive results, according to British Sugar.

The Crop Profitability Initiative has identified marked differences in yield and financial performance.

A survey of 300 growers has revealed a £3 per tonne difference between the top 10pc of growers and the average performer.

Robin Limb, who is agricultural manager for Cantley and Bury St Edmunds factory area, said that growers have been looking at their costs since the project started in 1998.

"If we're to achieve the full potential of the 20:20 vision, then the industry will have to become even more efficient."

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In a survey of 300 growers last season, the best growers achieved an enterprise margin of £1054.01 per ha or a unit cost of £14.59 per tonne.

The CPI average margin, which covered the beet growing areas, was £651.72 or a unit cost of £17.58. More alarmingly, it cost the bottom 10pc of growers £22.40 to produce a tonne of sugar beet.

Mr Limb said that the drive to reduce costs by 20pc and to increase yields by 20pc had shown that some growers were much more financially successful.

"For example, we have growers with a unit cost of as low as £12 per tonne.

"When we did a survey of growers in the PE11 Postcode area, we found that there was very wide degree of performance.

"It indicated that some growers are able to produce beet much more profitably than their neighbours.

"So, it is not down to soil type or land or anything, the yield performance can be improved," said Mr Limb.

He stressed that the industry had to become even more efficient in order to meet the new challenges posed by potential changes to the Common Agricultural Policy and the new sugar regime, which will run from 2006.

In the CPI survey, the yield difference was marked with an adjusted yield of 66.18 tonnes per ha for the best 10pc and 58.46 tonnes for the average.

In almost every field, there were widspread differences with the establishments costs ranging from £24 ha to a maximum of £173. Even harvest costs showed a range from £25 to £311 per ha.

In an open day at Honingham Thorpe Farms, Colton, near Norwich, growers were briefed about the progress of 20:20 project.

While the potential of new varieties and a determination to drive down costs, the industry's 7000 growers are being given every incentive to remain in production in the coming years.

Morley Research Centre has produced a beet model, which will help growers to evaluate their performance. Martin Lainsbury has copies available of the computer spreadsheet, which costs £15.

Chris Thomas, of the Norfolk Farm Machinery Club, who is helping to organise the "Sweet Success – 50 years of Sugar Production" at the Royal Norfolk Show next Wednesday and Thursday, would appreciate some further help.

In order to show the industry's transformation from the days of hand-labour, there is an opportunity for some volunteers to join the grand ring parade with a beet knife, Dutch hoe or beet fork.

Offers to Chris on 07968 665761.