Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Michael Sly (O68)


  Sugar production should continue in the UK, supporting mainly rural jobs and adding biodiversity to many farms, a very good crop for agricultural rotations, benefiting soils and weed problems. The UK only produces 50% of its sugar need, the rest coming from developing countries that depend on this regime. Do not let us export this well run and efficient industry, nor destroy the many other territories that will lose out. For the sake of countries that aggressively devalue their currencies and offer hidden support mechanisms to support their production.

  1.  I am Michael Sly, a partner in a family farming partnership, farming in the Cambridgeshire fens, and growing a mix of arable crops mainly combinable and sugar beet. We have been growing sugar beet for over 70 years on our farm. We employ five very dedicated and enthusiastic men, three of whom are under 36 years old.

  2.  We are concerned about the proposed EU sugar reform and its implementation from 2006. The sugar beet crop is very important on our farm, it is drilled in the spring thus spreading our workload, and it can be a good nesting ground for birds, due to the open nature of the crop at nesting time. We seem to always have a good population of skylarks and corn bunting associated with the crop, which do not appear over the cereal crops. Weed thresholds can often be higher in sugar beet, providing good food sources for these birds. Field mice also benefit by digging seed on the field headlands, thus supporting a barn owl food source, of which we have some good breeding sights.

  3.  There is a serious cash flow implication of an immediate change to the regime; we have our beet lifted by contractor, who is a father and two-son business, having made considerable investments to build up their business. Their machines are specialist and cannot lift any other crop, they could lose everything. Another family firm, who employ many drivers and utilise the fleet in the autumn/winter months, when other non-farm work is short, hauls our beet.

  4.  We accept that the "status quo" cannot be maintained and reform is necessary, but this should not come at the expense of the UK sugar industry, which is in the top league of producers in the EU. We would like to see a transition period, of eight to 10 years, so that we can restructure our farming operations along with the existing CAP reform.

  5.  We could live with a price and quota cut, providing that the EU compensated the beet growers, in conjunction with the CAP reform, but we on our farm could not produce sugar viably at the potential price cut to £18/tonne.

  6.  The three options listed by the EU are hard to support in their current form and we would follow the industries line that a modified option 1 should be adopted. Which is to simplify the current regime, but assumes supply controls in addition to reduced prices and a cut in the quota.

1 April 2004

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