Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Kerr Farms (O47)


  Kerr Farms are farmers and sugar beet growers in East Anglia.

  The Sugar Beet crop is grown on 285 ha (700 acres) of the land that we farm.

  Sugar Beet is a spring-sown crop providing a non-chemical means of controlling weeds eg blackgrass and wild oats.

  On farm efficiency is continually improving with R & D funded by the industry itself. Our crops come within Crop Assurance protocols and the Sugar Beet crop makes a major contribution to our sustainable farming ambitions and the local environmental objectives.

  The crop has a high "social" and economic value in our case binding together farmers working in co-operation together for over 30 years. The Sugar Beet crop is a symbol of good husbandry, efficient use of farm resources, provides employment and income to the rural economy.

  Any action that precipitated a drastic reduction in on farm receipts for Sugar Beet faster than new efficiency factors can be implemented, would be a disaster for the East Anglian rural economy and those people and businesses with which we trade.


  1.  The Sugar Beet crop has a special role in our farm crop rotation. This enables us to comply with environmental recommendations to leave "over wintered" stubbles from the preceding cereal crop harvest, providing a beneficial habitat and winter food supply for wild birds as advocated by both Defra and wildbird conservation organisations. Without the availability of spring sown sugar Beet crop these stubbles would be sown in the autumn to winter cereals and oilseeds.

  2.  Developments in Sugar Beet husbandry funded by the industry itself have led to improved productivity, lower use of chemical inputs and reduction in the use of inorganic artificial fertilisers.

  The proposed Options 2 and 3 would result in a lack of funds to maintain the progress being made in improving efficiency and on farm environmental conditions would surely decline.

  3.  In recent years our farms have come under the scope of independent audited assurance schemes. We combine the growing of Sugar Beet and compliance with both Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Sensitive Area membership on the same holdings. Sugar Beet comes within the ambit of crop assurance.

  These farms are also part of the Unilever Sustainable Farming Initiative surrounding the production of Birds Eye Peas which in conjunction with Sugar Beet provide an essential break from continuous monoculture of winter cropping.

  4.  All our operations on the Sugar Beet crop are carried out through various co-operative ventures, sharing investment, staff and risk. This co-operation commenced in 1972 (32 years ago) with the formation of a Partnership, Deben Valley Beet Growers. Today through contract farming arrangements and co-operation with adjoining Beet Harvesting Groups and formal and informal co-operation on the Sugar Beet crop involves over 20 growers with service ranging from sowing through to delivery of the crop to British Sugar for processing.

  These activities involve round the year work at critical times for both farmers and their staff. Any deterioration in the already slim growers margins would seriously effect the viability of many farms including our own and those that we co-operate with.

  5.  The Sugar Beet crop is unique in the workload effect on the mixed arable farm. The harvesting season neatly follows the grain harvest and establishment of autumn sown crops enabling a smooth (in most seasons) utilisation of people and machinery which in turn spreads overhead costs and depreciation.

  Since the introduction of Sugar Beet to East Anglia it has become a symbol of good husbandry.


  6.  The Assurance Schemes mentioned in Para 3 together with the close co-operation between farmers and the sole processor British Sugar, ensure a farm to consumer integrated Food Chain as advocated in the Curry Report, which is a shining example of best practice in British Agriculture. This provides safe high quality products to both individual family consumers and the UK Food and Drinks industry, which is both traceable and sourced near to ultimate consumption. British produced sugar is not exposed to world travel, high food mileage or contamination.

31 March 2004

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