East Anglia: Sugar beet price talks negotiators are ‘making progress’

The deadline for British Sugar's £30.67 a tonne offer for next year's sugar beet crop falls today, b

The deadline for British Sugar's £30.67 a tonne offer for next year's sugar beet crop falls today, but the NFU is urging growers not to take it up - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2012

Talks aimed at breaking the deadlock between growers and sugar makers over prices for next year’s sugar beet crop are making progress, according to farmers’ leaders.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) sugar board members met with British Sugar yesterday to try to resolve a row over the price the company, which has sugar factories at sites across East Anglia including at Bury St Edmunds, is offering to growers.

The NFU, which staged a packed growers’ meeting with standing room only at Diss on Monday, said it was “making progress” in the talks.

The meeting at Diss and a previous one at Newark last week each attracted around 250 growers in the run-up to British Sugar’s July 31 deadline today for growers to sign up to the £30.67 a tonne price on offer for next year’s crop.

The NFU, which says the price is too low and doesn’t reflect the costs of growing the crop, is urging growers to stand firm and hold back from accepting the offer.

The NFU has been collecting growers’ sugar beet pledges backing its stance, pointing out that British Sugar requires around 7million tonnes of the crop a year.

Drinkstone beet farmer Robert Baker said: “Growers have pledged almost 5.5million tonnes in support of the NFU and this has naturally strengthened the negotiating position of the NFU. We are urging growers to be patient and they are fully supportive of the work that we are doing on their behalf.”

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NFU chief sugar adviser Ruth Digby said negotiations were on-going.

“We are making progress and have agreed to meet again soon to continue talks,” she said.

British Sugar’s agricultural director Colm McKay said: “Our discussions with the NFU are on-going and our objective remains to pay a fair and competitive beet price to our growers without undermining our future competitiveness as an industry.

“The enhancement of £3/t to the agreed contract price is a direct result of listening to representations the NFU have been making to us over many months and is why we are disappointed and surprised that we have not yet reached consensus. We believe these prices will deliver a significantly positive margin in favour of beet versus the alternatives and with alternative crop prices falling, that margin is increasing further.

“Our only request before any grower makes a final decision is to complete their margin calculations to ensure they are basing their decision on the competitiveness of the crop.”