East Anglia's sugar factories delayed as drought hits the beet harvest



The ongoing drought has delayed the harvest of East Anglia's sugar beet crop — prompting British Sugar to push back the opening dates for its factories.

It is reported by Eastern Daily Press.

The firm announced that its factories at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and Cantley in Norfolk will open later than usual this year, on October 5 and 20 respectively.

It said this was due to "exceptional climatic conditions over the summer", with these factory areas receiving less rainfall than Wissington in west Norfolk and Newark in Nottinghamshire, which will open on September 26 and 19 respectively.

"The later start dates will allow for greater yield improvement by leaving the crop in the ground longer, thereby hopefully benefitting from some much-needed rain," said a British Sugar statement.

East Anglian growers who are impacted and need to lift their crop before their contracted factory is open can deliver sugar beet to Wissington from September 26. Any additional cost from this increased distance will be met by British Sugar.

One grower whose harvest has been affected is Andrew Blenkiron, director of the 10,500-acre Euston Estate, which spans the Norfolk-Suffolk border near Thetford.

He said his beet fields were lucky enough to receive 50mm of rain last Thursday which had "re-booted" the crop and brought its leafy canopy back to life.

But he has already lost 25pc of his beet plants which died during the drought, and he expects his harvest to be delayed by at least a month while the remaining roots recover.

«At the moment, the beet are still very small, about the size of stubble turnip, — he said. — I would suggest they are a couple of months behind, but sugar beet has an amazing ability to catch up if we have a couple of months of reasonable rainfall. We also need it to be wet enough to get the roots out of the ground. The soil is so tight around them, and we have experienced this before where you can break the root off as you try to get it out of the ground. Another few millimetres at the right time will sort that problem out».

While he is more optimistic after last week's rain, Mr Blenkiron still estimates his overall sugar beet yields will be about 30pc down on average — costing a potential £100,000 in lost revenue for a business already grappling with huge rises in energy fuel and fertiliser costs.