Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Alister Borthwick (O82)

  I am a Norfolk farmer with a substantial quota of 2,600 tonnes of sugar beet.

  I support the option 1 for very clear reasons, albeit with a minor price reduction. Any large reduction in price would make the crop totally uneconomic. I do not support Option 2 and Option 3.

  Sugar beet is a very significant portion of the financial turnover of this farm

  1.  Employment. At least two out of my three permanent members of staff are justified because of the work and particularly the time of year of that work with sugar beet.

  2.  Environment. There should be a full environmental and economic impact assessment of the sugar beet crop in the UK. For example the tops are eaten by pinkfooted geese, what would happen to their numbers if there was less sugar beet tops?

  3.  Tourism. The geese are a major tourist attraction from October to January. On this farm we have already diversified to take advantage of this aspect. Please see our village website to get a list of associated businesses such as pubs and restaurants in this rural economy that would be adversely affected by changes.

  4.  Soil erosion. As sugar beet are not drilled till March, we are able to leave the previous cereal stubble over the winter. This is good practice to stop soil erosion and is a policy supported by Defra.

  5.  Bird life. The overwintered stubbles provide feeding areas for many wild birds (a recent survey has shown more than 50 species of bird on this farm).

  6.  Investment. Sugar beet is a specialist crop both on the farm and at the processing stage. Price stability over a period of at least five years is required to justify the very significant capital expenditure in equipment for drilling, hoeing, lifting and carting. This equipment cannot be used for other crops that we grow in the eastern counties. What would be the effect on other UK jobs?

  7.  Security of supply. The present system provides a consistent and affordable supply of sugar. What would happen, not only to sugar but also to other foods, if there was a major upset and stoppage at one of our ports such as Felixstowe?

  Please consider the wider impacts of a major change to the sugar beet regime, rather than just the short term price of sugar in the shops.

30 April 2004

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