It has been another challenging year for sugar beet growers, especially with the bad weather at the end of 2019, in which growers worked hard on lighter land to harvest sufficient beet to keep British Sugar’s factories open.
For the first time a generation, growers have not been able to use neonicotinoid seed treatments to protect their crop from aphids and the damaging virus yellows they carry. As a result of this, NFU Sugar and British Sugar jointly applied for and secured an Emergency Authorisation for Biscaya, which was widely welcomed by growers, even if it will not be available in 2020.
The annual contract negotiation with British Sugar was long and difficult at times, as we pushed for growers to be fairly rewarded for the increased uncertainty they face in growing beet. The negotiations continued until September before agreement was reached. The result has been an increase in the one-year contract price, and an improved bonus structure for the three-year offer.
The refund of overpaid EU levy payments dating back to 1999 and 2000 has been an important milestone of 2019. Nearly £3 million has been returned to past and present growers, and NFU Sugar also covered British Sugar’s administration costs for doing so.
The key issue for 2020 will be securing a suitable alternative to Biscaya to protect against aphids and virus yellows, and ensure growers don’t face the high yield reductions that are likely to result without this protection. NFU Sugar is currently investigating the available options to fill the gap left by the loss of Biscaya, and protect the wider grower plant protection product toolbox.
We have reached agreement to introduce competition into the seed processing and pelleting service by opening it up to competitive tendering. This will see growers able to choose from seed pelleted by a range of processors in 2020.
NFU Sugar will continue to represent our growers in the four British Sugar factories, ensuring that delivered loads are processed and tested promptly, and appeals are dealt with fairly.
As we plan for contract negotiations next year, we will continue to strive to represent the interests of our growers, and work with the wider NFU to repeat our message to government that it is vital our sector does not face a disorderly Brexit.