Sugar beet growers are disappointed by the price on offer for the crop in the 2021 contract - £20.30/adj tonne for a one-year contract and £21.18/adj tonne for a three-year contract.
Base contract options are equivalent to 2020. Growers will have access to the sugar futures market for the first time and a virus yellows crop assurance fund has been allocated which will compensate them for a proportion of yield losses suffered, if virus yellows is present in their crop.
Commenting on the new contract, Andrew Blenkiron, estate director at the Euston Estate in Suffolk says: “It is disappointing that the price isn’t more, but I fully understand why. They [British Sugar] are facing an import challenge." Regarding the futures pilot he says: I like the ability to be able to vary terms and fix the price.”
Mr Blenkiron has recently halved the estate’s sugar beet area, partly as a consequence of price. “We are growing more maize for AD [anaerobic digestion]. It fits in the rotation well and is preferential economically.”
Andrew Wilson, who farms at Slingsby, North Yorkshire, about 100 miles from the Newark sugar plant says he is likely to continue growing the crop but at a reduced level. “Agronomically it fits in and there is a lack of suitable alternatives. Also we have not seen the aphid pressure that there has been further south so, longer term, geographically we may be better placed.”
Agricultural consultant Robin Limb says if import tariffs fall to WTO default levels of 10 per cent this will be an easy hurdle for countries such as Brazil to overcome. “This is the biggest challenge British Sugar will have to face.
“I know several farmers who have ditched beet for 2021 but what will they grow instead? Oilseed rape is not looking exciting, pulse crops are never very profitable. What else do you do apart from continuous cereal? Beet also levels out the employment balance through the year. If it is all combinable crops what will staff do in winter?”