A new sugar beet contract which will pay up to £3,000/ha – regardless of crop yield – has closed after being deluged with applications from growers.
The contract offer was for early season beet delivered into the Bury St Edmunds factory for the 2023/24 crop year. Beet must be delivered into the factory during 4-13 September.
British Sugar said it development the “one-time” early beet contract in partnership with NFU Sugar. The processor added: “We have faced unique challenges this year, which require unique solutions to address.”
The new contract aims to bring additional homegrown beet into the Bury factory earlier so sugar is available at the Silver Spoon plant before the start of the main autumn harvest.
“To take advantage of this unique contract, you need to offer at least 5ha of extra beet over and above any existing contracts,” said British Sugar. “Requests will be processed on a first-come, first served basis.”
In a statement, British Sugar said the price offered would compensate for lower yields when beet is lifted early. It said the contract would require growers to lift and deliver beet between the agreed dates unless otherwise specified.
On top of the £3,000/ha payment, British Sugar said it would also pay an additional £40 tonne for all sugar beet received above 72.5t/ha. The overall contract offer would be capped at 1400ha nationally, it added..
Growers will also receive a transport allowance up to 60 miles and a local premium – both based on the distance from the field to the Bury factory. This will be paid on delivered beet as per the standard beet contract.
The new contract states that growers will be expected to adhere to best practice. This includes the requirement for sugar beet land to be in an existing arable rotation and drilled by 15 April. Farmers must establish at least 80,000 plants per hectare to qualify.
It has been a challenging year for British Sugar. NFU Sugar, which represents sugar beet growers, said yields had been disappointing and the area of crop grown had been small during 2022/23.
As a result, British Sugar has faced a shortfall in sugar production. Opening the Bury factory early will enable the processor to reduce the amount of imported sugar it needs to honour its commitments to customers.
Challenging season for British Sugar
British Sugar says it is working with growers and customers to manage any potential shortfalls caused by this year’s crop.
It follows challenging weather conditions during the 2022/23 growing season, which affected sugar beet crops across Europe, not just the UK. Yields have been variable on farms across East Anglia and the East Midlands.
The contract offer is in response to a number of factors. Earlier this year, British Sugar said it had optimised its manufacturing processes and was looking at other management actions to balance supply and demand.
It added: “This will mean possibly using alternative sources of high-quality white beet and cane sugars from across the world so we can co-refine with UK beet sugar for a limited period of time.
“We have managed these situations before and remain committed to our place at the heart of the homegrown UK sugar beet industry.
“We are very optimistic about the future of the UK beet sugar industry as part of a thriving rural economy, harnessing cutting-edge technologies, further decarbonising our supply chains, and seizing the opportunities that free and fair-trade offer.”
The processor was hit by a significant plant failure at its Cantley factory in Norfolk last December. The incident meant beet had to be diverted for processing at Bury St Edmunds and Wissington.
British Sugar agreed to meet the additional costs to growers.