Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Overbury Farms (O12)


  Sugar beet is a very important crop for Overbury Farms. It is vital to the rural economy and biodiversity. It employs two rural members of staff and supports a more diverse bird and wildlife population on the farm. Supporting a stable market with quota and price control within the EU would balance supply with demand and ensure we have a viable sugar industry for ACP, LDC and EU countries.

  1.  I am employed as Farm Manager for Overbury Farms, managing 1,369Ha on the Gloucestershire-Worcestershire border. I am contracted to grow 1,800 tonnes of sugar beet destined for British Sugars Allscott Factory in Shropshire. I currently employ 6 full time farm workers with part time accounts assistance.

  2.  I am the Vice Chairman for Worcestershire FWAG (Farm, Wildlife Advisory Group). The farm has completed a LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) audit and we are fully compliant with all components of the Voluntary Initiative.

  3.  Sugar beet has an important role to play in the rotation here at Overbury. It is important to us for several key reasons set out below:

  3.1  It is a profitable break crop. We are the custodians of the land and farms are the same as other business, they need to remain profitable in order to maintain the existing landscape and to invest for future generations. Re-investment means increased productivity and greater efficiency to compete at ever lowering prices. We are a competitive industry in balance with supply and demand. Half of the demand for sugar is already met from cane imports from the ACP and LDC and we do not dump surpluses onto the global market.

  3.2  A sugar beet enterprise is labour intensive. Nationally over 20,000 jobs are involved with a high percentage of those in rural areas—it keeps two rural jobs open just on my farm alone.

  3.3  It is not just directly employed labour that is involved in the sugar beet enterprise. Contractors harvest the crop and employ mechanics to service their equipment. Hauliers transport the crop and agronomists regularly field walk the crops. Soil sampling technicians and the associated fertiliser and chemical suppliers all have a vested interest in me making the crop profitable.

  3.4  It provides a balance in landscape management—late ploughing allows an over-wintered stubble which provides cover and weed seed feed for wild birds. After the crop is planted in early March, the open seedbed provides good habitat for ground nesting birds such as the Lapwing, a BAP Species.

  3.5  A detailed environmental audit of UK sugar beet production was recently carried out by Defra and the environmental NGO's (2002) concluding that it is beneficial for biodiversity and bird life. Volumetric inputs have been reduced by 60% since 1982.

  3.6  The sugar produced from my beet meets the necessary food standard measures and traceability. We are ACCS registered and can use the "Little Red Tractor" logo on beet from this farm. These standards are not global and therefore there is no guarantee of the quality of imported sugar.

  4.  It is important that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recommends Option 1 the "Stable Market" assuming some price and quota reductions as recommended by the UK's Sugar Industry, Oxfam, ACP and LDC, for the reasons stated above.

  5.  Options 2 would stop sugar production in Europe eventually, and the benefits of the crop to us and our environment would be lost. Price controls could not be maintained and the price of sugar would slip to world market levels at which we cannot compete; this has already been witnessed in the coffee industry.

  6.  Option 3 will cause production of sugar in the ACP, LDC and Europe to cease instantly.

  7.  I believe that we currently have a balanced industry; for the environment, for supply and demand and for productivity we are second to none. The EU has a problem with surpluses it must export, why therefore should we suffer due to over supply from other EU countries? Option 1, with allowance for quota to be moved around member states, will migrate production to those areas most suited for crop production and to those growers capable and committed to responsible sugar production.

22 March 2004

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