Sugar Industry Programme participant Tom Saunders shares his experiences. Find out more about our scheme for the next generation of growers here.
The Sugar Industry Programme provided a varied range of events which gave an interesting perspective into all aspects of the industry, made me aware of the beneficial work of the NFU and helped form good friendships with other participants on the programme.
One of the earlier meetings was a visit to Wissington factory. It was fascinating to see the processes involved in abstracting sugar from the beet, and ultimately refining that raw product. During the talks we received the group learned about the efficiency of British Sugar and future challenges that face the industry. As a grower, it was pleasing to hear of the NFU’s work at the point of arrival for beet into the factory. NFU beet intake manager Donald Hume gave an enthusiastic explanation of his team’s role in sampling and handling claims, showing how this is done fairly and consistently.
Although the emphasis of the programme was on all things sugar beet, we were given an insight into the work the NFU does lobbying and advising in Westminster and also in Brussels, which we saw for ourselves when we met MP Dr Dan Poulter in London, and visited the British Agriculture Bureau and European Parliament in Belgium, meeting two MEPs there.
I personally found our trip to Brussels informative and it left me better placed to make a decision in the forthcoming EU Referendum. I returned home still unsure which was best for the future of Britain and for British farming, but to see first-hand how the European parliament works, and to understand the involvement in the Union we as a country had (and for the time being still have) was invaluable.
Visits to SESVanderHave and Germains demonstrated how companies are continuously evolving sugar beet varieties and seed to promote yields and assist with crop health in a more competitive way, aided by in-depth research and modern technologies.
Away from the crop, media training proved beneficial when we were joined on our Brussels trip by the BBC’s Sunday Politics East television team. Presentation training was also useful when we all spoke individually at a dinner with Meurig Raymond and the NFU Sugar Board. Furthermore, I reported on the NFU Conference at a branch meeting shortly after, and can imagine both the media and presentation training will continue to be useful in the future.
During the SIP the group all became firm friends, which made the many dinners and overnight stays very enjoyable. The programme was a good opportunity to discuss different ideas with other growers, gave many opportunities to meet informally with sugar board members and forge relationships with professional people and those who work in different areas of the industry. Since the programme I have seen a few of the group out socially, and when considering contract options this year I was able to call upon the advice of the two agricultural consultants who were on the programme with me. I would encourage anybody to apply for the programme. It is a rare opportunity and you stand to gain a lot from it.