England

Sugar beet production starts early due to wet weather

Sugar beet
Image caption Sugar beet farmers across England started harvesting their crops early

Wet weather has forced sugar beet production to start a fortnight early at British Sugar plants in Norfolk, Suffolk and Nottinghamshire.

While traditionally starting towards the end of the month, all four plants at Cantley, Wissington, Bury St Edmunds and Newark opened on Wednesday.

An early start will also try to avoid frozen ground in winter spoiling crops, said British Sugar.

The problem affected many farmers around the country last year.

Sugar beet is grown heavily where the crops are processed but British Sugar also has contracts with farms in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

'Encouraging'

"Our growers are keen to make an early start to this year's harvesting as conditions are favourable following recent rainfall," said Sharon Fisher, spokesperson for British Sugar.

"As long as the crop has made reasonable growth progress during the season and harvesting conditions are favourable, a mid-September start date is appropriate for both the grower and processor," she added.

British Sugar said it was too early at present to say how this year's harvest will compare to 2010, but said growers' feedback on crop prospects was "encouraging".

Traditionally sugar production starts at the end of September and finishes towards the end of February.

No extra employees at British Sugar have been hired to react to the early start.

Unite union members, many of whom work at British Sugar, will be balloted on industrial action next week after they rejected a new pay offer from the company.

British Sugar said it has undertaken "all necessary steps to mitigate disruption to our four processing factories and the delivery of our products to customers".

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