East Anglia: Minimum beet price ‘would restore growers’ confidence’

Managing partner at Brown & Co Estate Agents Charles Whitaker.

Managing partner at Brown & Co Estate Agents Charles Whitaker. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2012

A £30 per tonne minimum beet price would restore growers’ confidence, said an East Anglian land agent.

Charles Whitaker, of Brown & Co, has called for an extraordinary growers’ meeting to highlight the lack of confidence in prices for the 2013 crop.

Growers should tell the National Farmers’ Union’s sugar board and British Sugar that the contract price for this season’s crop and following years was unacceptable, he said.

After the disaster of 2010 and on-going difficulties of the current campaign, the beet price model was not fit for purpose.

European prices were significantly higher with as much as £45 tonne being paid in Holland. Further, he said that the risk of a longer campaign disadvantaged the home industry. “This hands an equal advantage in terms of margin and competitive ability to the processor.”

While a cost-plus model was relevant three or four years ago, the sharp increase in other crop margins has made beet much less attractive.

This “cost only” model, despite an opportunity for review by the NFU last summer, has seen margins increase by at least £100 acre or £250 ha over the past three years. Sugar beet has stood still.

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“Sugar beet needs to outperform other broad acre break crop alternatives to be sustainable in most growers’ rotations. Frankly, at the current likely output for the 2012 crop and, indeed, the price on the table for 2013 (a reduction of £1 tonne), it is clearly failing to do so.

“Sugar beet needs to be at least £30 tonne compared with the miserable £26.50 tonne on offer for the 2013 crop,” he added.

“Growers should settle for nothing less than £30 tonne (ex farm) from the crop for the 2013 season. As anaerobic digestion emerges as an alternative market for beet and, indeed, for the ground that might have grown beet and is now redirected to maize, British Sugar should take notice of a very real threat to the production capacity of the UK crop.

“We certainly need an extraordinary national growers’ meeting to pass a vote of no confidence on where we are heading on price/returns to growers for the 2013 crop,” he said.