Farming News - UK sugar beet farmers are worried that post Brexit policies will put them out of business

UK sugar beet farmers are worried that post Brexit policies will put them out of business

23 Aug 2021
Frontdesk / Arable / Finance

UK beet farmers have expressed their fear that Brexit is threatening their future and the ability to compete with other beet producing countries and are worried that trade deals such as the UK-Australia deal will put them out of business.

Meeting half of Britain’s sugar needs, domestic beet growing is supplemented by overseas beet or cane when there is a decrease in British output, The Guardian has reported.

Norfolk sugar beet farmer Ed Lankfer told the newspaper that he is worried that post-Brexit trade deals with big sugar producers like Australia will put him out of business, as he is already facing a loss of £12,000 caused by bad weather and pests. "Recent years of falling prices, coupled with risks from weather and disease, have many farmers questioning whether there is a future in growing it."

Mr Lankfer recently met with Liz Truss, the international trade secretar but he felt it did little to raise his confidence. He said :“She explains herself well, but after the meeting there were lots of ‘what ifs’. What if Australia falls out with China, and then Australia floods our market, which could happen with sugar? My future is in her hands".

Michael Sly, Cambridgeshire farmer and chair of the National Farmers Union’s sugar board expressed concerns about the UK-Australia trade deal and any increase in imports from future agreements will be a threat to UK farmers.

“Unfortunately we think with the new market dynamics, the industry will get smaller in future,” Sly told The Guardian.

He added that under the current deal "there will be 240,000 more tonnes of tariff-free sugar in the UK by 2030, and that after the transition period there will be no limits on Australian sugar imports meaning UK sugar farmers will find it very tough to compete with Australian farms".

One-year contract prices for sugar beet was £32 a tonne in 2014 but the price has dropped by more than a third to about £20 a tonne for the past few years.

Mr Sly is also worried about the fact that countries which produce sugar cane can still (unlike UK farmers) use pesticides which are banned in the EU. “Many growers are now talking about what they call beyond beet, and unfortunately we think with the new market dynamics, the industry will get smaller in future,” he said.

James Peck of Cambridgeshire-based PX Farms was the UK’s third-largest sugar beet grower but has stopped production altogether. He told the Guardian that:“We were heavily invested in it and we were committed, but the price went down, down, down”.

The London Economic cited an additional concern for farmers from a Private Eye report about Tate & Lyle, the British sugar giant who only processes imported cane. They are soon to benefit from new government initiatives –  free carbon trading allowances and a also grant to cut the company’s  emissions at London Docklands refinery.This gives Tate & Lyle grants worth more than £2 million. 

Michael Sly concludes that "It’s a perfect storm,whichever way you want to look at it,”