Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Tom Meikle (O37)

  I recommend Option 1 as the only options sustainable for my business and the best option environmentally.


  Option 2 and 3 would make growing Sugar Beet in the UK uneconomical. Growing sugar beet needs investment and so needs a stable pricing policy.

  If sugar beet production ceased in the UK, it would have a detrimental environmental effect: there would be a decrease in the amount of over-wintered stubble and ground cover for wildlife; it would create mono-culture cropping with a subsequent increase in oil seed rape and cereals.

  We should be self-sufficient and keep food miles as short as possible.

  Quota cuts should come from the EU countries that grow surplus. The UK grows only half its requirements.

  1.  My name is Tom Meikle. I farm a 300-acre Arable farm in a family partnership in the Vale of Evesham Worcestershire. We were the NFU English Nature Farming for Wildlife Award winners this year. We are keen conservationists and members of Plantlife, RSPB, FWAG (Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group) and I am a committee member of the Worcestershire FWAG. We have grown sugar beet on the farm since 1925. We use integrated farm management techniques to grow a sustainable crop. Despite increasing yields in the period, the economical return has got less; Option 2 and 3 would make sugar beet production on the farm uneconomical.

  2.  The large investment needed to grow and harvest sugar beet and to process it needs a stable pricing policy: a harvester costs approximately £300,000; a cleaner—£20,000; a drill—£18,000.

  3.  Sugar beet is commonly grown on land that is also suitable for vegetable growing and has irrigation. I choose to grow sugar beet as it is sustainable; yields are increasing using less pesticides and fertilisers than vegetable crops which when grown long term can deplete the soil fertility and structure. Any drop in sugar beet price is going to release some land to vegetable production and upset a market that is already very fragile and which also needs long term investment.

  4.  DEFRA and the environmental NGO recently carried out a detailed environmental audit of UK sugar beet. I responded to this consultation and have read the report. Its conclusion that sugar beet is beneficial for biodiversity and bird life can easily be seen on my farm. Sugar beet is particularly good for corn buntings, barn owls, grey partridge and lapwings.

  5.  I believe the RSPB response to the consultation has under-estimated the importance of sugar beet to bird life: Not only does the 140,000Ha of sugar beet provide ground cover and food source for birds and invertebrates, but the preceding crop is often left as over-wintered stubble to be ploughed up for sugar beet planting in the spring. A further 100,000Ha of spring sown crops follow after late lifted sugar beet.

  6.  I believe it is important to be as self-sufficient as possible in our food requirements.

  7.  The average distance from factory to customer for domestic sugar production in the UK is about 130 miles compared to 4,000-12,000 miles for imported sugar.

  8.  By supporting the sugar beet industry with Pillar II funding as the RSPB suggests is all very well but I have found that the Stewardship rules are not flexible; to receive payments for over-wintered stubble or spring cropping, you must commit yourself for 10 years. This does not allow for changes in economical circumstances, new opportunities or different crop rotations. A less rigid system would encourage farmers to farm for biodiversity.

  9.  I believe that quota cuts should come from the EU countries that are producing surplus to their country's requirements; the UK does NOT produce a surplus and already imports half of its requirements from developing countries—a good example for others to follow.


  A reduction in the price of sugar beet will have a huge environmental and social cost.

30 March 2004

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