Deeping St Nicholas farmer says he’s done with growing sugar beet

Chris Carter.
Chris Carter.
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Chris Carter’s family has been growing sugar beet for nearly 90 years, but he won’t be growing next year when he is being offered just £20.30 per tonne.

So that’s it, we’re done. The last of this year’s sugar beet crop has left the farm.

It’s a bit early but we’ve long felt that keeping beet in fields during the damp winter months leaves us a very small window to establish a decent following crop. So this year it was felt best to get next year’s wheat in the ground in good time to enable it to establish properly before the much anticipated ‘hard winter’ arrives.

This year we’ve taken, for us, a momentous decision, one which troubled me greatly at the time – not to grow any sugar beet next season. British Sugar appears to believe that their crop is the one that farmers cannot do without and while their parent company records ever greater profits year on year, their remit appears to be to progressively reduce the price paid to farmers. They maintain that crop science has ensured that average yields over the last 20 years have increased massively. While this is indeed partially true, what other industry has to put with persistent price cuts over the years coupled with repeated brinkmanship and refusal to meaningfully negotiate?

I have looked through our farm accounts and the earliest entry I can find relating to sugar beet is in November 1927 when we were paid £1,424 by the Anglo Scottish Sugar Beet Corporation. At one time we had a 12,000 ton contract which meant with beet yields averaging 15 tons per acre we must have grown around 800 acres of sugar beet. When I first started making farming decisions in the early ’90s the price was £38 per tonne; next year we have been offered just £20.30.

At that price we can make no meaningful return and thus we are now ‘ex sugar beet growers’ after growing the crop continuously for nearly 90 years. Will we grow again? I don’t know, that’s for the NFU negotiators to deal with. As I say, for the moment we’re done!