Revival of once buoyant sugar sector moving closer, says campaign group
Tillage farmers have been urged to consider growing sugar beet as a push gets underway to revive the industry with a new processing factory.
Michael Hoey, who is behind prepared foods business Country Crest and Beet Ireland campaign group, told farmers gathered at an Irish Grain Growers meeting in Co Wexford that he felt they were moving closer to reviving the once buoyant sugar sector.
It is understood that a potential site has been located close to the Carlow/Kildare border.
Mr Hoey said the timeline on potentially reigniting the sugar beet industry was up to the “suppliers” who needed to agree to grow the crop as EU sugar quota restrictions have now been lifted.
“The customers are there waiting to buy Irish sugar again, the road is free thanks to the government and all the people who made that happen. We can produce a better product than anyone else,” he said, adding they felt they would be able to raise the multi-million euro investment for a potential plant.
“If you go out there tomorrow and say we want the Irish consumer to buy our produce and we want to produce it. I believe everybody can stand up and listen and it can happen very quickly in this case.”
Mr Hoey said the tillage industry has “been sliding for quite a while”. “With those quotas dropped in October just gone, today if you were to produce sugar on your farm or backyard you are legally entitled to do it,” he said, adding there were not limits on it.
“There are lots of countries out there, especially Arabian countries, that have a need for sugar.”
The recent Oireachtas report on the Future of the Tillage Sector from the Joint Committee on Agriculture called for a review of the potential opportunities in the sugar beet industry.
The sugar industry came to a halt in Ireland over a decade ago after the EU introduced a restructuring scheme for the industry, with incentives for less-efficient countries to exit the sector.
Plants such as Mallow and Carlow were shut, with compensation paid to Greencore and to beet growers.
Chair of the committee, Fine Gael TD, Pat Deering, acknowledged there would be challenges in resurrecting the industry. He said their aim was to “kick start” a discussions with the wide-ranging report as the tillage industry is at a crossroads.
Bobby Miller from the Irish Grain Growers group said farmers must begin to market their crops better and a “positive voice” was needed for tillage at the table as negotiations on CAP get underway.
The group’s Clive Carter pointed out 3.5 million tonnes of feed are imported into Ireland each year and there were real opportunities there for the industry.
He said there was a need for a quality assurance scheme payment such as that in place for beef and lamb for producing fully-traceable Irish grain.
“We are also keen to stress that there needs to be more marketing of Irish grain,” he said.
On malting barley, the group’s Colm Fingleton said it should be a “premium crop” that farmers want to grow but the current pricing system for the year ahead was going to ensure growers reduced their acreage.
“We are sitting back and letting them have this product for 1pc of the price of a pint,” he said.
Mr Fingleton said they intended to lobby as a specialist tillage group led by volunteers representing farmers as they urged people to sign up at a cost of €50.
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