Push is now on to revive mothballed sugar industry
HAS the sugar industry's day come again? A decision in Brussels last week to end sugar-beet quotas in the EU by 2017 will bring machinations to a head over whether Ireland kick-starts its sugar industry again.
Many of the 3,500 sugar beet growers that took almost €60m in compensation from the EU in return for exiting the sector in 2006, still rue the day that the industry decided to opt for the easy money.
Ever since, sugar prices have rocketed to record highs, farmers have struggled to maintain healthy crop rotations and Ireland Inc forks out about €150m a year on imported sugar.
Prof Jimmy Burke of UCD's crop science department agrees. "We should never have exited. It was simply a wrong decision."
Prof Burke has been involved in studies on how to restart the industry. They centre on finding a suitable site for a new €350m plant, funded by a combination of farmer-growers and bank debt. But does such an investment make sense?
Greencore was the company that was in charge of sugar processing in Ireland when the sector was shut down. Its CEO, Patrick Coveney, recently said that there would never be another sugar industry here.
"Sugar yields in Ireland are awful relative to Britain and France," he said.
However, Dave Barry of beet seed suppliers Goldcrop maintains that good Irish growers would be well able to match the average yields achieved in Britain and Scandinavia.