British Sugar’s new ‘Beet Package Plus’ has been publicly criticised by NFU Sugar, with the board saying it will “do nothing to retain growers”. Charlotte Cunningham reports.

In communications to growers, British Sugar announced a new support package – ‘Beet Package Plus’ – for the 2021/22 season.

This promised:

  1. An enhanced 2021/22 contract beet price, with a built-in guaranteed minimum market linked bonus, underwritten by British Sugar, from 80p per adjusted tonne.
  2. Cash flow support, allowing growers to defer their seed invoice until campaign, interest free.
  3. More campaign flexibility to accommodate beet deliveries, recognising that growers understandably don’t wish to operate harvesters in fields that are waterlogged and simply not suitable for lifting.
  4. Guaranteed 2021/22 surplus beet price fixed at £20.30 adjusted/tonne.

“Following a difficult season in 2020/21, we are pleased to offer this enhanced support package to our sugar beet growers, to help the whole industry for the upcoming season,” said Peter Watson, British Sugar agriculture director. “We thank growers for their considerable support over the last year and look forward to working with all our colleagues across the homegrown beet sugar industry in the upcoming season.”

But despite the promises from British Sugar, the NFU have said that this isn’t enough.

Responding to the launch of British Sugar’s ‘Beet Package Plus’, NFU Sugar board chairman Michael Sly said: “NFU Sugar in no way supports or endorses British Sugar’s ‘Beet Package Plus’ communication sent to growers this morning and doesn’t believe it’s anywhere near enough to stop many growers giving up sugar beet for good when their current contracts finish.

“For months NFU Sugar has expressed its concerns to British Sugar, and to the highest levels of AB Sugar, about the future viability of the home-grown sugar industry. Continuing low contract prices, coupled with much greater risks of yield loss from disease, means sugar beet is no longer viewed by many growers as a viable part of their rotations.

“Throughout, NFU Sugar has argued for a targeted package to acknowledge the risks growers have and will continue to face in growing the crop. This has not been delivered. NFU Sugar also urged British Sugar to increase the support for those growers who are honouring their multi-year contracts and so risk big losses again this year. British Sugar refused.

“NFU Sugar urged British Sugar to pay growers some of their 2021 contract in early summer to help with the desperate cash flow situation many growers are facing. Again, British Sugar refused. NFU Sugar estimates the ‘cash flow support’ British Sugar has offered to growers to be worth just 1p/tonne on average.

“Growers will see the guaranteed surplus price for 2021 for what it is: British Sugar’s desperate need for all the sugar it can get this coming year; given the smaller than normal acreage being drilled in 2021 as growers reduce area or have stopped growing entirely, and British Sugar’s recognition of the opportunities many growers have to sell surplus beet at good prices for feed or energy.

“To our growers British Sugar claims poverty, but to the City its parent company Associated British Foods recently announced a £100m profit for the global sugar division AB Sugar, driven in part by improved profitability at British Sugar. Market conditions this year indicate British Sugar’s profitability will likely continue to improve.

“We believe that growers will not be seduced by British Sugar’s vague promises of ‘jam tomorrow’ in today’s letter to growers, or in its previous communication.

“NFU Sugar believes in the future of the home-grown sugar beet industry, but we remain increasingly concerned that British Sugar’s complacency puts this at severe risk. We firmly believe that to have any hope of retaining the strong base of domestic growers for the longer term, sugar beet needs to give growers a viable financial return, something NFU Sugar will continue to fight for on our growers’ behalf.”

Full details of the “Beet Package Plus” can be found here