Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by KE and JM Watkins & Son (O39)

  1.  I am a partner in the agricultural business KE and JM Watkins and Son. We are farmers and agricultural contractors heavily involved in sugar beet production. I have four specialist sugar beet drills and three self- propelled harvesters ie a large financial commitment; and we would spend at least half of every year engaged on sugar beet operations. Any option bar Option 1 would completely alter my business. I employ seven men full time and my father and my son are still heavily involved in the business. Under Option 2 or Option 3 my involvement with sugar would obviously cease as production of sugar beet in the UK stopped. I would not be able to maintain my present staffing levels and the whole structure of my men's lives would change. We also use local suppliers, engineer's agronomists etc, so the knock on effect locally would he colossal. We also run our own lorry, which would have to go so the same effects would be felt with the people who supply and maintain the lorry.

  I am a sugar beet grower and contractor living in Herefordshire and specializing in sugar beet, I spend six months of every year involved with sugar beet. Purely on a financial tack any option bar Option 1 would totally devastate my business, I could no longer maintain my staff numbers and would have to make half my staff redundant and not support my local suppliers and service engineers.

  2.  I am also concerned about the effect on wildlife and biodiversity if there is no sugar beet in the countryside. As sugar beet is a spring planted crop, and it usually follows cereals in the rotation, there are plenty of bare stubbles for overwintering birds. Also if sugar beet was removed from the crop rotation far more combinable crops would be grown and this would have a great environmental impact and alter the whole structure of this mixed farming area.

  3.  Looking at sugar beet from a national point of view; the UK is alone amongst EU member states in that sugar market is roughly shared between beet sugar from UK produces and the British Sugar Industry (1.1 million tonnes) and by cane sugar from the ACP countries and LDC who are the beneficiaries of the EBA agreement. The UK beet sector does not produce surplus quota sugar to be exported onto the world market with export subsidies, levies are collected from the UK beet industry which are used to fund the export of quota surpluses from other member states; so my point is the UK sugar beet crop is a perfect example of how sugar beet production should be in mainland Europe.

  4.  Looking at sugar production worldwide, I am very concerned that Option 2 or Option 3 would just mean Brazil would meet the world's entire sugar requirements. Brazil has stated it has c90 million hectares of virgin land available and just 14% of this could produce the world's entire sugar requirement. Surely it cannot be right environmentally to be felling virgin rain forest, and financially and strategically to have one nation producing all the world's sugar. Also from an environmental point of view, having to ship sugar all over the world would consume vast amounts of fossil fuels; it must be better to produce the sugar near to where the consumers are.

  I could raise many more points, but I think the issues I have mentioned above are the ones that concern me the most.

30 March 2004

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