Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Patrick Allen (O53)


  If the Government's response to the Sugar Sector reform is anything but the supporting of a stable market with a managed reform, then it will produce some serious winners and losers.

  The winners will be:


    The industrial users of sugar who will benefit from cheaper sugar.


    Brazil who can produce vast quantities of cane sugar through cheap labour.


    France—being the only EU country that could possible compete at present world prices, but who also produce the biggest exportable surplus within the EU which is the cause of the present WTO objections.

  The losers will be:


    The UK sugar industry and the 20,000 associated jobs.


    The UK environment due to the lose of the large acreage of sugar beet that provides biodiversity.


    The world environment due to the lose of the Amazon rainforest as Brazil pushes up production—The Brazilian Congress is, even now, voting on a project that will reduce the forest to 50% of its size, and what for—agriculture.


    The ACP and LDC who at present are allowed to sell sugar into the EU market at the higher EU prices.

  As a sugar beet producer, growing 60 acres on my family farm of 480 acres, I would like to stress the importance of the crop to the farms economic well being, the local employment and the local environment.

  1.  Each year I invest approximately £450 per acre to grow 25 tonnes per acre of Sugar Beet which once processed will produce four tonnes of sugar. This compares with an annual investment of approximately £180 per acre for growing wheat. Sugar Beet is not a cheap crop to grow. I would not be making that investment, along with accepting the risks from weather and diseases, unless there was the likelihood of a financial reward for doing so. That £450 per acre investment will support many other varied businesses.

  2.  During the past four years Sugar Beet has been the financial back bone to this farm as cereal prices have collapsed. Without the financial stability that Sugar Beet has provided, I would certainly not have been able to continue farming as an independent unit.

  3.  Without the financial stability that sugar beet provides, I would be unable to continue to employ the one full time worker I currently do. The crop, in conjunction with three neighbouring farms, directly employs a one-man-band haulier for six months of the beet campaign, a contractor with a beet harvester and a further tractor and trailer plus driver to haul the beet from the field to the concrete pad.

  4.  For the past two years I have participated in the RSPB Volunteer & Farmer Alliance Scheme, where-by an RSPB member carries out an in-depth survey of bird species present on the farm, through the various seasons. Twenty-eight species were recorded, of which four were red listed (birds of high conservation concern) namely grey partridge, quail, skylark and yellow hammer. I believe the farms good showing in this survey is primarily down to the high level of spring cropping through sugar beet and the spring barley that follows sugar beet. Indeed the RSPB in their letter to me, referring particularly to the skylark, stress the importance of such cropping, I quote "Winter cereals only provide suitable habitat for them to rear one or two broods, so inclusion of spring cereals or a break crop (other than oil seed rape) will provide ideal nesting habitat." And of course the 2,000+ Pink foot geese are most grateful for the sugar beet tops on which they graze during December to February when there is little other food available.

  5.  Seventy per cent of the UK's sugar production is sold as industrial sugar for the manufacture of drinks, chocolate, biscuits etc. A reduction in the farmgate price of sugar beet will not lead to any benefits in lower priced products for the general public. One only has to analyse the price of bread for evidence. Ex farm prices for milling wheat has halved in value since the early 1990s but the price of a loaf of bread has continued to rise above inflation.

  6.  The emotional rhetoric, emanating from some quarters, that a fully liberalised sugar sector, will in some way, be a panacea for a free world in traded sugar, is simply nonsense. It is a red herring, for certain countries, to be pointing the finger of blame, for the low world price of sugar, at the EU. The facts do not support such a notion. The world market in sugar amounts to approximately 130 million tonnes; the EU produces around 14 million tonnes of which 1.3 million tonnes is exported from the EU onto that world market; Brazil alone exports some 12 million tonnes.

  7.  The UK sugar industry, and I, as a small cog in that industry, fully accepts the need for reform. But what is needed, above all else, is a stable market, where UK growers can continue to provide a secure source of reliable, home grown sugar, and continue to invest in the research and development of the crop for the future. 20,000 related jobs and the environment depends on it.

31 March 2004

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