All you need to know about the sugar beet industry

16 December 2021

An image of sugar beet being harvested in a field and loaded into a tractor

The homegrown sugar industry faces many challenges. As growers, we can play an important part in helping improve and sustain positive perception of our sector, whether on social media, with local press, politicians, or the public.

The resources you'll find on these pages will help growers advocate for the home-grown sugar sector. Whether you need information about our public-facing work and campaigns, or helpful, shareable infographics that will give the public the facts about sugar, you’ll find it all here.

Who this information is for: Current sugar beet growers who are planning to engage with local politicians, regional press, or the general public will find these resources invaluable.

What information is provided: Facts and figures that can be used to help growers advocate for the home-grown sugar sector.


The information that you can find on these pages is available for all sugar beet growers. It can be accessed in two ways:

  • If you grow sugar beet and are an NFU member– log in to access your resources.
  • If you grow sugar beet and are not an NFU member you can request all the resources by emailing [email protected]. We will send the information to you as a PDF file. Please allow five working days for the information to reach you.

We’re promoting the work of sugar beet growers to the general public

Most members of the public don’t know that a sugar beet industry exists here in the UK. See how we’re promoting the work of sugar beet growers on our public-facing pages on

Here’s how you can get involved in supporting the sugar beet industry

On this page

The homegrown industry in numbers

20 years ago


1.1m–1.4m tonnes 1.1m–1.4m tonnes
10 factories 4 factories
193,000 ha c100,000 ha
10,000 growers 2,500–3,000 growers
Factories run 100 days per year Factories run 300+ days per year
Sugar the primary product Diversified business
  • The industry supports nearly 3,000 growers, over approximately 100,000 hectares across East Anglia, the East Midlands and Yorkshire. 
  • NFU Sugar is the statutory representative of all sugar beet growers in the UK. It negotiates the terms of the Inter-Professional Agreement, including annual contract prices, on behalf of sugar beet growers with the sole processor of sugar beet in the UK, British Sugar.
  • Growers deliver sugar beet to four British Sugar factories located in Cantley (Norfolk Broads), Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk), Wissington (Norfolk Fen) and Newark (Nottinghamshire). The British Sugar headquarters is based in Peterborough.

nfu sugar factories map.png_79116

  • We are a proactive industry, investing in our own research and development via the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO). 
  • The homegrown sugar industry prides itself in being one of the most efficient in the world.
  • The industry supports 9,500 jobs in the wider UK economy and works with 7,000 different businesses 
  • On average, sugar beet travels just 28 miles from field to factory.
  • Historically, sugar beet yield has increased by 2% per year for the last 30 years, far outstripping yield growth in other arable crops grown in the UK.
  • The UK home-grown sugar sector is more than just sugar – 99% of the crop is used, with by-products including animal feed and topsoil. 
  • The UK production process produces virtually zero waste, with less than 200 grams of waste for every tonne of sugar produced.

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What are the benefits of growing sugar beet?

Sugar beet is an important break crop in the arable rotation, providing many agronomic benefits to manage pest and diseases.

Other break crops, such as oilseed rape (OSR) can be used, but due to the loss of plant protection products, it is becoming harder for farmers to grow these alternative crops.

During the sugarbeet harvest in the autumn, a quarter of the world’s pink-footed geese, as well as several breeds of swan, forage on the beet tops that have been left behind when the root is lifted.

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The UK market explained

The UK population consumes just under 2 million tonnes of sugar each year. Sugar consumption is in long-term decline, and overall the market is steadily dropping, but this is offset by an increasing population size meaning that consumption is reasonably stable.

The below graph does not equal demand – it is consumption of all added sugars and does not account for import/export of products.

NFU Sugar graph sugar consumption_79118

British Sugar Plc produces approximately 1 million tonnes of white sugar a year. The UK imports about 40% of its sugar consumption. Of the sugar that is imported:

  • About half currently comes from sugar cane. It is imported from around the world and refined on the banks of the Thames by Tate and Lyle, owned by American Sugar Refiners
  • About half is European beet sugar (mainly from France).

The UK produces white sugar in the UK, which is either directly sold to manufacturing or sold to the general public by the retail brand Silver Spoon.

Pie chart: UK sugar consumption 2020

nfu sugar market supply breakdown.png_79119

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