Memorandum submitted by Farmers' Link
1. Farmers' Link is an independent non-profit
company, part funded by DG Development, with the aim to promote
awareness of sustainable agriculture and rural development issues
among the farming and rural community. Working across Eastern
England, it is guided by five directorsthree farmers, a
soil specialist and an agricultural journalist.
2. In January 2002, at the time of the EBA
proposals, Farmers' Link organised a conference to inform British
farmers of the circumstances facing sugar producers in ACP, LDC
and Cairns group countries. Conference speakers included representatives
from each of those sectors, from Oxfam, and from Defra. (Andrew
Kuykhead of arable crops division.)
In October 2003, our quarterly SARD meeting
(Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development) discussed the
subject of sugar regime reform, with presentations from Mike Blacker
and Helen Kirkman from the NFU, and from British Sugar, to an
audience of farmers, agronomists and beet research scientists.
Farmers' Link has also contributed to a recent
"Seminar on Sugar" arranged by the East of England Churches
3. In response to the Defra consultation
on Reform of the Sugar Regime, Farmers' Link favoured the first
of the three options, to keep intact the current regime while
providing for some quota loss and price cuts. This is the option
that will maintain a stable market for sugar from domestic beet
growers and developing country cane suppliers. Either of the more
radical reform options will undermine this market and cause serious
damage to the fragile economies of the ACP and Least Developed
Countries in favour of a small group of large-scale producers,
especially Brazil where the environmental impact of production
methods raise serious concern.
This conclusion is based on reasons of food
security, rural economy, and the environment and maintenance of
4. Increasingly agricultural policy in the
UK seems to ignore the subject of food security. Farmers' Link
strongly believes it essential for all countries to maintain a
sensible level of own food production. With regard to sugar the
case is clear. The UK does not produce surplus sugar; in fact
it only produces 50% of consumption. Whilst there is a surplus
produced within Europe, and the subsidised export of this is an
issue, quota cuts to address this should not be directed at the
UK. A better mechanism should be sought to prevent the production
of unwanted "C" beet in the UK, with a grower-funded
scheme to allow this surplus to be carried forward to the next
5. In addition, UK produced sugar is "local
produce", meeting the demands of consumers. The average sugar
mile for domestic production in the UK is about 130 miles, compared
to between 4,000 and 12,000 for most import sources.
Contribution to the rural economy
6. Sugar-beet production is of great importance
to the rural economy of the UK. It is presently grown on around
7,000 farms, contributing to on-farm employment and to profitability.
Beyond the farm gate the crop is important to businesses involved
in haulage, the supply of farm inputs, to manufacture and repair
of machinery, and obviously in sugar processing. It is estimated
that sugar production employs approximately 20,000 people throughout
7. The contribution to the economy of developing
countries is possibly even greater. The United Nations Millennium
Declaration of September 2000 resolved to eradicate poverty and
hunger; to achieve universal primary education; to combat HIV/Aids,
malaria and other diseases; and ensure environmental sustainability.
Sugar production in LDC countries acts as a driver to achieving
all these targets. In Zambia, for example, the civil infrastructure
usually provided by the state is being provided by the sugar industries,
improving water and sanitation, roads, and providing reliable
Environment and natural resources
8. Sugar beet is an important part of the
rotation for all growers in this country. Aside from its contribution
to income, it fulfils many aspects of good farming practice. Its
cultivation reduces disease and pest levels in the rotation. It
allows a varied approach to weed control, and generally makes
a positive contribution to soil fertility. Soil structure generally
benefits from beet, provided poor conditions are avoided during
harvest, and new techniques of minimal cultivation will further
help to avoid soil erosion and compaction.
9. Fertiliser and pesticide treatments in
sugar beet are now at a relatively low level. Low-dosage herbicides
and seed-treated insecticides are examples of this, insecticide
use has reduced by over 95% since 1982, and nitrogen usage reduced
by 33% since 1970. Nitrate leaching during the growth of a beet
crop is negligible, most soils containing less than 10kg/ha at
the end of the season.
10. A recent study by Brooms Barn showed
sugar beet to be a very energy-efficient crop, using a similar
amount of energy to grow as a wheat crop, but yielding much more.
Total energy inputs average 20.4 GJ/ha at the factory gate, with
an output of 150-220GJ/ha, ie a positive ratio of between six
and 13. This makes it a potentially good for the production of
biofuels, a completely new market to complement the existing food
and drink demand. The beet processing infrastructure in England
is very efficient, and well-placed to meet this biofuel potential,
and requires encouragement to do so, not obstruction.
11. Strict assurance protocols now apply
to the production of sugar in the UK, and the use of the Little
Red Tractor symbol on sugar products gives the consumer an indication
of quality procedures.
Production of organic sugar in the UK started
in 2002, and has increased to 20,000 tonnes to meet growing demand.
12. Sugar beet offers significant benefit
to wildlife diversity, especially to farmland birds. Over winter
a variety of habitats are created on stubble fields prior to the
beet crop, and beet fields provide an important source of feed
for birds during autumn and winter. In spring the crop provides
nesting sites for species such as skylarks and stone curlews.
The removal of the beet crop from the rotations
of existing UK growers will almost certainly result in a further
increase of autumn-sown crops, either more cereals, or break-crops
such as oilseed rape or beans. All of these changes will exacerbate
the pressure on wildlife habitat.
Stability of price and supply, and impact on ACP
and LDC producers
13. The second and third options to the
Defra consultation result in marked price reduction, the second
by at least 40%, the third by more, but both will have an immediate
negative impact on grower incomes. It is claimed this will improve
the balance between supply and demand, but will also introduce
a greater insecurity and volatility to supply. It is also claimed
to result in lower prices to the consumer, whereas in fact the
main beneficiaries will be large industrial users. Thirdly, these
options claim to maintain preferential access to the European
market, but with no price preference this access will be worthless.
14. The Sugar Protocol, the SPS agreements
and the Cotonou agreement all cover trade for sugar from ACP countries,
whilst the EBA initiative describes access to sugar from LDC countries.
The reform options that result in substantial price reduction
will undermine all these agreements, and would not encourage investment
or deliver development benefits to the LDC's. The preferred option
for both ACP and LDC countries is a return to fixed quotas, which
the EU ISG Impact Assessment states will protect from fluctuation
in supply, will benefit rural communities and will reduce budget
15. In response to the Defra consultation
for reform of the Sugar Regime, Farmers' Link believes a managed
market to be preferable to a "free for all" price-cutting
policy. The UK beet sugar industry is efficient and innovative,
and is best served by the stable market option. This would involve
some reductions in price and quota, and could include the provision
of fixed quotas for ACP and LDC's. It would signal a positive
future to a sustainable European beet industry, whilst honouring
long-term obligations to ACP countries and new ones to the LDC's.
1 April 2004