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Sugar beet growers will have more flexibility in the seed varieties they choose following a ground-breaking deal with British Sugar. Reforms announced by NFU... Deal means more choice for sugar beet growers

Sugar beet growers will have more flexibility in the seed varieties they choose following a ground-breaking deal with British Sugar.

Reforms announced by NFU Sugar and British Sugar mean growers no longer have to purchase seed via the official UK Seed Account. It means growers will have access to other seed sources from next year.

In a joint statement, both sides said the agreement would give growers more choice and flexibility, support innovation and address recurring issues with growers’ access to seed, while preserving the most effective parts of the existing model.

Changes will be made to growers’ contracts from 2025, following feedback from growers about availability of seed, as well as changes to how British Sugar markets seed via the UK Seed Account.

As well as seed available via the UK Seed Account, growers will be able to grow varieties that are either on the Recommended List, were on the list in the past year or are on the Variety List and undergoing trials.

The changes include:

• Growers and seed breeders will be able to buy and sell seed direct, or via third party suppliers, as well as via the existing UK Seed Account, operated by British Sugar and overseen by NFU Sugar.

• To supply British Sugar, growers will now be permitted to grow a wider choice of varieties which is expected to allow earlier uptake of new genetics and increase choice for growers.

• Seed sold through the UK Seed Account will be sold throughout the year and stocks will be released for sale as they become available – meaning growers can buy their desired seeds when it’s right for them.

At the same time, the British Beet Research Organisation, NFU and British Sugar have set in motion changes to the Recommended List trials, which will be moving to evaluating finished products, rather than genetics alone.

Important changes

The goal is that the revised recommended list will represent what farmers actually buy, trialled in a way it will actually be grown, rather than in small batches tested in ways that fail to reflect farmed conditions out in the field.

Andrew Fletcher, joint seed lead on the NFU Sugar board, said: “We’re pleased to have worked together with British Sugar to agree these important changes to seed purchasing so that it remains fit for purpose in our sector, which is facing exciting opportunities.

“We’ve listened to feedback from growers about what did and didn’t work for them and believe that changes to the model will prevent a rush on buying seed, promote investment from breeders and reduce the risk of substitutions.

“This will ensure that we’re able to continue to produce sugar beet for the nation sustainably and efficiently.”

Better performance

British Sugar Nick Morris head of agriculture said: “We’re delighted to have worked on this transformational change with the team at NFU Sugar, empowering growers with more choice and flexibility in their seed purchasing.

“Sugar beet seed is a fundamental part of our industry and we’re committed to evolving the buying model to meet grower demands, as well as supporting continued investment in seed breeding and seed technology.”

Mr Morris said the agreement would mean the sector could continue to adapt to emerging threats while seizing the opportunities afforded to growers and the processor through increased performance.

“The transition to using finished products in the BBRO Recommended List trials will further support growers by providing more relatable information for purchasing decisions on seed.”

Processor ‘optimistic’ for sugar beet this season

British Sugar says it remains optimistic for this year’s crop – despite another late start to the season.

This is the fourth year in a row where drilling has taken place during mid-spring. Wet weather meant up to 10,000ha (25,000 acres) of an expected 100,000ha crop was still not in the ground during the first week of May.

British Sugar agriculture director Dan Green said: “I am optimistic about the coming season despite the higher Aphid pressure we are seeing this year and obvious concern over potential levels of Virus Yellows.

“Providing we have some favourable weather during the summer, we expect to see some good crops, good yields and some good margins for our growers. This should encourage further investment in the industry, which is what we all want for the long-term.”

The 2023/24 sugar beet campaign was one of the longest ever – totalling 228 days. It concluded with Cantley slicing the last beet on Friday 19 April. British Sugar’s four factories processed more than 8m tonnes of sugar beet, producing some 1.1m tonnes of sugar.