Sugar Beet in 2013 and beyond
As the 2012/13 campaign has finally drawn to a close in all factory regions I feel it is timely to reflect on the difficulties we have all faced this campaign and on the challenges awaiting us in the months ahead. This year has been one of the most difficult for many on farm, and has emphasised understandable concerns about the practical difficulties and risks to their soils and following crops faced by sugar beet growers. Additionally we have all been witness to the difficulties at each of the factories which have led to slower processing and an extended campaign, despite a smaller crop than for several years, leading to late finishes across all the beet growing areas.
We have been hearing from growers for many months of the significant loss in confidence that British Sugar is committed to improving factory performance, and of their doubt that there is a genuine commitment to the future of the UK industry. The NFU has made it plain to British Sugar that the credibility of their claim that they are committed to a partnership with growers is at risk without action on two main issues:
Reliability of processing has been a real problem this campaign and we need reassurance that investment is planned to address the problems learned from this campaign, in addition to investment for the future. Richard Pike, the Managing Director of British Sugar, will present investment plans to the NFU Sugar Board later this year.
2014/15 Beet price
The failure of British Sugar to respond to NFU requests to update the price model at last year’s mid-term review is also an area of focus. Without changes this year, the promise that sugar beet would have one of the best margins for a broad acre crop over the life of the four-year agreement with the NFU is unlikely to be met. The recent announcement of the completion bonus on offer for the 2013/14 crop is a gesture in recognition that growers are losing confidence, but further moves are needed to reverse the declining satisfaction with the crop.
Richard Pike has assured growers, both at the BBRO Winter Conference and the NFU AGM sugar breakout session, that he is listening to the representations from the NFU and growers and that he is aware that actions, not words, are needed to reassure growers of British Sugar’s commitment to the future of the crop. The NFU continues to meet regularly with British Sugar and we are working to ensure that this promise is followed through before the announcement in June of the price for 2014.
CAP Reform and Sugar Beet
Our sector is also facing potential significant political changes as the sugar regime continues to be debated in Brussels. Recently we have seen a vote in the European Parliament in favour of extending the sugar regime until the end of the 2019/20 marketing year (including quotas, minimum beet price and the right to collective negotiation). NFU Sugar has worked hard to ensure UK beet growers’ concerns are being heard in Europe and we have received strong support from many MEPs from the beet growing region which has been reflected in this recent voting result.
While this is a positive step on the way, it is by no means the end of this political journey. As we enter the final months of the development of the legislation, the UK government, as part of the European Council of Ministers, now becomes central in the process. The NFU continues to ensure that the DEFRA Secretary of State and the Minister are aware of the key issues for our industry, and that if they continue to focus solely on the removal of the regime by 2015 they risk undermining the key balance in the supply chain which protects growers in the face of the single buyer, at the very time they are trying to restore balance of power in other sectors.
Nonetheless, it is clear that at some stage over the next 5-7 years the quota system will come to an end.
We do not yet understand all the implications of this, but one thing is already certain: Neither growers’ nor British Sugar will be receiving any financial compensation for this change.
However, British Sugar will continue to need beet from our farms to supply their factories, so there will still need to be contracts to cover this. Growers’ right to collective negotiation must not be surrendered.
To keep up to date with NFU Sugar work on CAP reform, and to find supporting information if you are planning to make your voice heard as a grower to your local MP, you can find further information on the NFU Sugar website.
Lastly I would like to extend an invitation to you all to invite NFU Sugar board members or staff to meet you if you would like to know more about our work on your behalf or if you would like to discuss any issues, so they can be directly raised at future board meetings. Many of us have taken the time to attend various branch meetings in recent weeks and months and we would be pleased to attend any formal or informal meetings in the future. Please either contact a board member directly or send enquiries through to the NFU Sugar team at headquarters and we will endeavour to ensure someone from the board or team can come along. The months ahead are crucial for us all. Your support is vital in achieving the outcomes we all seek.
Chairman, NFU Sugar