Beet industry set for revival

A revival of the sugar beet industry may be in the pipeline as a new factory site is being considered on the Carlow-Kildare border.

Last night, at an Irish Grain Growers meeting in Bunclody, Co. Wexford, tillage farmers were told that following the end of the EU sugar quotas there is now an opportunity to re-establish a viable industry here.

Chris Harmon – financial director of Beet Ireland, the group behind the plan – stated that “progress” had been made; however, he declined to go into greater detail on a proposed site for the new factory.

I can tell that we have made progress; but I can’t go into any detail. We have made significant progress on that site.

“We can’t have a beet industry in Ireland unless farmers are prepared to grow it and that’s what we are trying to do.

“If there is demand and willingness and a desire to grow beet in similar quantities to what we grew back in 2006 then we are very, very interested. We have a business model that can deliver this industry and deliver product for parts of the industry.

“We are ready, willing and able and that is where we are today. I just want you to take that message away with you,” he said.

Pat Deering, chair of the Joint Oireactas Committee on agriculture and Fine Gael TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, was at the meeting, organised by the Irish Grain Growers, which focused on the future of the tillage sector; the meeting was attended by approximately 170 people.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Deering said there needs to be a study completed to ensure that the figures would stack up for re-establishing the industry – which was forced to close 13 years ago.

“Times have moved on now; we have no sugar quotas in Europe. We’re importing annually and it’s all about scale.

Last night, we saw a huge appetite and a huge enthusiasm among farmers. Some are sceptical and they want to see more figures on the table. But, I do think the appetite is there for progress in this regard.

Last night, Michael Hoey, chair of Beet Ireland, outlined that they have a business plan in place that “may involve a financial contribution” from the farming sector.

“In the dairy sector, farmers make a contribution on a co-operative basis and I would expect a similar type structure would be envisaged for the future.

“If the figures stacked up, farmers would be prepared to do that; sugar beet has been the missing link for the last number of years.

Since the demise of the sugar industry, we’ve seen the tillage industry as a whole at a crossroads.

“If all the ducks were put in a row, there would be an appetite for investment from the farming sector.

“They are growing other crops; but, input costs are very high and the returns are lower. Sugar beet can be a very profitable crop to grow and at a time where there is no other income this would be very important for the sector,” he said.

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