NFU secures new talks on sugar price

BRITISH Sugar is set to re-open negotiations on beet prices after farmers threatened to grow other crops next year. The row over prices came to a head last week when around 300 sugar beet farmers attended a meeting organised by Cambridgeshire grower Oliver Walston to protest at British Sugar's offer of £24 a tonne for the 2009 harvest.

BRITISH Sugar is set to re-open negotiations on beet prices after farmers threatened to grow other crops next year.

The row over prices came to a head last week when around 300 sugar beet farmers attended a meeting organised by Cambridgeshire grower Oliver Walston to protest at British Sugar's offer of £24 a tonne for the 2009 harvest. The National Farmers' Union gave its support to the meeting.

The group, representing one million tonnes of beet quota, said the 2009 price must be revisited against the backdrop of sharp increases in production, lifting and haulage costs.

A British Sugar spokesperson said yesterday : “Following a growers' meeting held last week, we have agreed with the National Farmers' Union (NFU) to re-open negotiations with regard to the 2009 crop contract.


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“We fully appreciate the pressures on growers' input costs and will be meeting the NFU next week.”

Helen Kirkman, chief adviser to NFU Sugar, has written to growers to inform them of the new price talks with British Sugar, and asking them to return their signed 2009 beet contract to NFU Sugar as soon as possible. She said these would be held by them pending negotiations and delivered to the company by hand and to the agreed deadline.

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“Growers wished to show support for the NFU and agreed that all contracts should be returned to the NFU instead of British Sugar pending those discussions. The meeting reiterated the significance and value in the NFU acting as the single negotiator for all beet growers,” she said.

“Following the show of solidarity last week, other growers have contacted the NFU echoing this support and asking for guidance on what to do next.”

Mr Alston said yesterday: “I very much welcome the fact that British Sugar and the NFU are sitting down at the table. That's good news, very good news.”

He said the meeting had been “amazing”, and that the mood among farmers was “pretty steely” and determined.

“The general feeling was if the price doesn't get better, we are going to stop growing sugar beet,” he said. “We have got a whole new ball-game. Number one, the alternatives have got a lot more profitable, and number two, the input costs have more than doubled.”

Elmswell sugar beet grower and regional delegate on the national NFU sugar board Robert Baker pointed out that the price of fuel and fertiliser had rocketed, making the crop increasingly uneconomic to grow at the bottom-line price previously agreed with the NFU.

“We didn't think that the price was high enough to attract enough of a tonnage that they required,” he said.

“The growers are rightly doing their sums.”

He added: “It's not in the industry's interests for the tonnage not to be grown. We are keen that British Sugar recognise that the crop is important and that it must work economically for both parties. I'm very pleased that British Sugar has acknowledged our difficulties and agreed to come back to the negotiating table. The NFU will work tirelessly to try and improve the returns to the grower.”

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