Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Mr Andrew Symonds (O23)

  As one of the UK's 7,000 sugar beet growers I write to express my grave concerns regarding the possible outcome of the European Sugar Sector reforms. My family has farmed for many generations and grown sugar beet since the 1930s and the crop has become the cornerstone of our farming business. We have invested heavily in machinery over the years and the beet growing on our farm directly affects the employment of at least six people and many more indirectly. Any decision taken by Government that will ultimately lead to the destruction of the UK sugar industry would put the future of my farming business, and many thousands like it, in jeopardy. Jobs will be lost in both agriculture and industry and the consumer and environment will also be adversely affected.

  My points are as follows:

  1.  Common Sense dictates that in the current world market place maintaining the status quo is not an option. I support reform of the sugar regime, providing however that it leads to a stable market in which all producers, including ACP and LDC suppliers, can compete on a sustainable basis. This, I believe can only be achieved by the implementation of the first of the three EU Commission Policy Options. Although this would involve simplification of the current arrangements as well as some reduction in quota and price, it is the only Option that I believe will enable me to continue to grow sugar beet here at Lincomb Farm on a profitable basis.

  2.  Our whole farming business revolves around our sugar beet enterprise. It has remained the most important crop on the farm since we began to grow it in the late 1930s. We have also expanded our sugar beet enterprise with the purchase of a neighbouring farmer's beet quota two years ago, and have as a result invested in new machinery to maximise our output and efficiency. We have also taken on contract harvesting and drilling operations for other growers.

  3.  I have a contract to produce 3,500 tonnes of sugar beet for British Sugar annually. The implementation of either Option 2 or 3 will mean that the UK sugar industry could not be able to compete in the market place and I, along with the thousands of other UK sugar beet growers would no longer be able to grow my sugar beet crop economically.

  4.  Jeopardising our sugar beet production would directly affect the employment of at least six people. Multiply this by the number of growers and many thousands of jobs throughout the industry would be lost. Many local transport companies are only able to sustain their operations through the delivery of beet to British Sugar and they in turn have huge investment in their lorries and trailers.

  5.  If I was no longer able to grow beet profitably then I could of course look at alternative crops. We could increase our area of wheat and barley but additional potato area is restricted by rotational pressure and crop storage after harvest. Bearing in mind the new CAP reforms and the move to the decoupling of subsidy and production with the introduction of the Single Farm Payment, the market could not sustain the huge increase in cereal and other crop area likely to result with UK beet growers switching to other crops. It would simply become uneconomic for me to grow additional cereal area and rotational pressures would severely limit other forms of cropping.

  6.  My current labour force would become redundant on a full time basis and much of my machinery would effectively become scrap, as there would be no market to sell it to, even in Europe!

  7.  The sugar beet crop on my farm has significant environmental benefits, particularly for birds and wild animals, more so than other cropping. There is no doubt that the diversity of wildlife is greatly enhanced because of the sugar beet grown here.

  8.  The UK Sugar Industry provides the consumer with a product that is assured of safety and quality and also full traceability.

  The EU's final decision will directly affect 7,000 farmers in England as well as 20,000 jobs throughout the UK's economy. The UK beet industry remains one of the most efficient in Europe and is unique in that our sugar production is in balance between supply and demand. I would urge Government to influence and implement any policy that will serve to protect the UK sugar industry and help to safeguard the future of thousands of UK farming businesses.

25 March 2004

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