Positive reaction to beet…ambitious target set

The reaction to Beet Ireland’s proposals from the group’s meetings with growers was largely positive. There were certainly farmers in attendance who appeared like they were going to put their money where their mouth was.

Reports from Thursdays meeting with the Irish Grain Growers’ Group (IGGG) are that well over 250 people attended.

Some growers are willing to part with €1,000 – which they know is only the beginning of the investment they will make (AgriLand understands that the €1,000 investment will be reimbursed if the plan does not go ahead) – to see the industry re-emerge as a pillar of the tillage sector. That’s where Beet Ireland sees the crop’s future – as a pillar of the sector.

1,000 growers is a significant number

While building a beet plant is a large task, make no mistake about it getting the growers is an ambitious project.

1,000 growers doesn’t sound like much when you throw about figures. After all, there are over 137,000 farms in the country, but breaking it down there are only 6-7,000 farmers who grow two or more tillage crops, meaning that a large proportion of tillage farmers have less than 30ha (75ac) of land.

In order to produce 1.4 million tonnes of sugar those 1,000 growers will need approximately 50,000ac of beet, in other words an average of 50ac each.

The area of beet (for fodder) planted in the country this year was up by 9% from 9,400ha in 2017 and 2016.

Sugar beet of course can only be grown every three years due to beet cyst nematode infestation in the soil, so these growers would need to be working from a land base of at least 200ac, in order to facilitate a rotation.

Not like the old days

In the old days of the sugar industry in this country the majority of growers grew smaller amounts of beet and it was the small few who were in treble digits when it came to acres.

However, this is a new beet industry for the country and, if it is to come back, things won’t be like they used to be. Machinery and inputs will most likely be supplied through the new company.

Another big change since the closure of the industry is the three-crop rule. While its future is uncertain under CAP at the minute, 50ac will take up a large proportion of many farmers cropping requirements.

The expansion of the dairy industry and competition for rented land will also pose a challenge.

However, challenges can be overcome. The enthusiasm and interest in the revival of the beet industry is no doubt contributing to an extremely important and historic moment in the Irish tillage sector.

There are many things for farmers to consider before entering into a co-op. Going back to beet won’t suit everyone’s system, but if the plan goes ahead it will change a lot of farming systems.