NFU Sugar: 2021 outlook

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Michael Sly looks ahead to what is in store for NFU Sugar in 2021, including the fight against virus yellows disease that is currently devastating the industry...

As beet growers are acutely aware, 2020 saw one of the worst virus yellows disease outbreaks in living memory. The impact on yields this campaign has been massive with (as of end of November) an anticipated 25% yield loss nationally.

So, while the NFU Sugar team and board have a very wide remit and cover a lot of ground each year, our number one priority in 2021 is to continue to fight for the future of sugar beet growing in the UK.

We all hope for a cold winter to kill the aphids and slow the pace of virus yellows infection this coming spring, but of course we cannot control the weather. We are doing everything we can, however, to give growers both a neonicotinoid seed treatment and a suite of foliar sprays to protect against aphids in 2021. At the time of writing we do not know the outcome of these emergency-use applications, but rest assured, we continue to move heaven and earth to secure them.

Through the joint Virus Yellows Taskforce, along with BBRO and British Sugar, we are investing significant resources in exploring different potential solutions to the challenge.

We also understand the immediacy of the devastating effect on yields this campaign to growers’ businesses. Some growers have seen over 80% losses in yield and revenue from the crop.

Even now, we know growers on some of the most fertile soils in the UK are voting with their feet and planting other crops on land originally set aside for beet next year and declining to contract with British Sugar in 2021. This is very understandable, but they need to be given confidence to continue to grow sugar beet. And of course, the 50% of growers on existing multi-year contracts don’t have the option to stop growing.

NFU Sugar continues to call on British Sugar to help all growers in their time of need, or risk a wholesale flight from sugar beet growing and the potential collapse of our 100-year-old industry.

The fight goes on.

Michael Sly
Chair, NFU Sugar Board

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