Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Nigel Stangroom (O15)

  As a farmer under the age of 40 I would like to voice my concerns over the proposed Sugar Sector Reform.

  The British Sugar Industry was encouraged by the Government in 1936, from nothing to secure sugar supplies for its own use. Now it appears after all this time our own Government could put the first nail into the coffin of the British Sugar Industry.

  Our Industry has successfully co-existed in trade with less developed countries, who are very concerned about their future as sugar producers if the Sugar Sector Reform goes the wrong way. Free trade is important but when it comes to food production reasonable support allows for steady supply at reasonable prices. Unlike oil production the tap cannot just be turned on and off as the markets move about.

  When it comes down to price for primary products a 50% price variation does not always filter down to the final consumer because of all the "on" costs.

  As farmers we have been involved extensively in the apple industry but due to overseas competition and increasing labour costs on a predominately manual crop, we have slashed our production of fruit crops and moved towards machinery orientated crop production.

  With sugar beet, the crop lends itself to mechanisation and as a result of plant breeding, chemical technology and improved machinery, yields are still increasing and harvesting costs remain fairly static.

  I can understand disposing of an industry that was inefficient but the British Sugar Industry should be cherished for what it has achieved in recent times especially when total food miles for British Sugar is 130 miles compared to Cane Sugar at between 4,000 and 12,000 miles.

  The environment would also suffer with the demise of the sugar industry. Sugar Beet is a spring sown crop which means there are many cereal stubbles prior to sugar beet drilling. This provides winter havens and feed for all forms of wildlife, not least 100,000 pink footed geese that feed on our North Norfolk stubbles. Hares, partridges, skylarks and others flourish on this crop as it provides bare land through to late May. What a great loss this would be to our green and pleasant land.

  The Sugar beet industry also employs a full time staff through the winter harvesting and haulage period, if this crop were to disappear, people in agriculture would become even more isolated. Often the first point of contact and conversation between farmers, after an intense harvest period, is their sugar beet returns.

  Without sensationalising the issue, this became clear to me as a young farmer friend in his late 30s committed suicide last week. It is a lonely business.

24 March 2004

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