Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by HW Watkins and Sons (O38)

  HW Watkins & Sons has been growing sugar beet for more than 50 years (contract number 103173). Since sugar beet was established on the farm by my grandfather the area has grown to 66 hectares and has become a very important crop for the business. During this period there have been some major changes to the industry. The most recent significant ones have been the introduction of modern varieties allowing early drilling which has allowed significant increases in groundnesting birds (eg peewit) on the farm, and modern seed treatments allowing reduction in pesticide use. Over the years the farm has invested a considerable amount of money in the crop, most recently the purchase of quota.

  We now face the greatest single change since the foundation of sugar beet production in Europe. Whilst I recognise change is inevitable, I do feel there should be some key elements within this change.

  1.  The UK is currently in balance with home-produced sugar (beet) and imports (cane), mainly from former colonies, and so we are not a net contributor to EC surpluses.

  2.  Following my travels and work in a number of LDCs, their systems of production and regard for the environment currently fall well below UK standards. By following Option 2 or 3, this will only encourage further desecration of the global environment.

  3.  The UK sugar beet industry plays a valuable role in terms of employment and a reduction in food miles of the sugar produced.

  4.  A Defra report in 2002 confirmed the crop's value to the UK, both financially and in terms of biodiversity.


    —  UK farmers and processors have invested heavily in the industry.

    —  The UK is the only country in the EC to be in a supply/demand balance.

    —  The UK has one of the most sustainable sugar beet systems.

    —  Confirmation of its value as reported by DEFRA in 2002.

    —  UK beet sugar provides a very low food/miles product.

    —  UK beet sugar is a fully traceable and environmentally friendly product.

30 March 2004

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