2020 Sugar Beet contract: what does it mean and how will it affect the industry?

Oct 03 2019

The Terms

The NFU and British Sugar have announced terms for both a one-year contract, and a three-year contract for sugar beet growers. On 18 September, the NFU reported the terms of the contract: “A one-year contract will be offered for 2020 at a contract price of £19.60/t” and, “a three-year contract will be offered for 2020-22 at a price of £20.45/t.” This marks the first time since 2017 that there has been an option for a three-year contract.

How does the contract compare with recent years?

The one-year contract is an increase on last year’s price of £19.07/t. However, when we compare with the terms from 2017/18 and 2018/19, (£22.00/t and £22.50/t respectively), a trend of falling prices emerges. When announcing the contract, British Sugar continued to maintain that their priority was to “deliver the fairest possible deal for growers and the processor.”

This comes at a time when many farmers were hoping for greater support from the NFU during the negotiations, with one stakeholder stating, “I don’t think the growers are militant enough.” Many growers were already aggrieved with the late agreement of the contract, arguing that it is too late in the year. As this contract announcement has been further delayed, beet growers will legitimately feel that it has not provided them with enough time to thoroughly evaluate their harvest options.

To that end, the 2020/21 contract terms have been released amidst a backdrop of problems for British growers. Foremost among these has been the loss of key agrochemicals, including neonicotinoids – banned by the EU in 2018. (You can find out more about these insecticides in a previous blog post, here.) This ban has been compounded by an extremely hot summer, resulting in low yields. With these factors in mind, British sugar beet growers were hoping to be compensated with a greater increase in contract terms.

Beet sugar being grown; Ragus supports all its farmers and producers with advice and support on how to optimiseefficiencies, and promote the cause of sustainable sugar production

Potential consequences for the British sugar industry

 Colm McKay, British Sugar’s Agriculture Director, claims that the 2020/21 contract is ‘more attractive’ – many growers, however, would be inclined to disagree . For instance, at face value, the three-year contract appears to be more beneficial because it provides growers with price security for those three years. However, when growers are annually reassessing whether sugar beet is the most viable product for their land, many will be hesitant to be tied down to a three-year contract.

Richard Allison, editor of Farmers Weekly, has predicted that many sugar beet farmers will start to look at other crops instead, stating ‘there will be no let up next season and the crop is starting to look less attractive.’ This is a view echoed by many contributors in The Farming Forum, pointing to possible future issues for British sugar beet.

Contract negotiations also took place against a backdrop of a relatively tumultuous global sugar market. World prices have fallen to a ten year low and there is a global surplus of sugar, with these highly accumulated stocks needing to be absorbed by the market before we can see any improvement in price. Recent activity points to a recovery in the global price of sugar and if this trend continues, British beet farmers may hope for more favourable terms in the 2021/22 contract.

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A sustainable sugarcane plastics revolution?

Sep 27 2019

With the prevalence of harmful single-use plastics firmly in the global spotlight, Lego’s next step in its eco overhaul has been to unveil a range of bricks made from sugarcane-derived plastics. Is this the beginning of a sustainable sugarcane plastics revolution?

What is the Lego Plants from Plants range?

Lego has made a commitment to use only sustainable materials in its core products by 2030. To take the first step towards this, it has released the Plants from Plants range, a set of Lego plants made of plastic derived from sugarcane. Composed of 98% biopolyethylene, the reformulated products meet the sustainability guidelines laid out by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), due to the CO2 absorbed by the sugarcane as it grows.

Brazilian firm Braskem is Lego’s supplier. The company already has a process in place that allows for the conversion of ethanol from sugarcane into ethylene, the precursor for biopolyethylene. Alongside this, Braskem’s sugar is certified as sustainable by Bonsucro, and, according to the company’s findings, each tonne of biopolyethylene removes 3.09 metric tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.

It remains to be seen whether Lego can roll out this process across its entire iconic range of bricks. So they can effectively and repeatedly lock and unlock, the raw material these bricks are made of requires a highly precise specification. Tests have already shown that biopolyethylene doesn’t match this, but the move by Lego demonstrates the role sugarcane-derived plastics could play in a sustainable future.

Lego’s Plants for Plants range is the first product sold by the company comprised of entirely sustainable plastic.

 Biopolyethylene: the future of sustainable plastic?

Lego’s decision to introduce biopolyethylene (or bio-PET) products is testament to its surging popularity in a wide variety of industries. Biopolyethylene is already in the cosmetics industry, where it is used to make containers for shampoos and other cleaning products. Its popularity stems from the fact it results in a plastic that is much less oil-dependent than, but retains the same properties as, standard petroleum-based polyethylene.

Bio-PET also delivers a net reduction of CO2. Not only are the environmentally damaging effects of petroleum production all but avoided, using sugarcane as a feed crop absorbs CO2. Building on the statistics we have already seen from Braskem, global bio-PET production consumes over 1.5 billion pounds of CO2 a year.

These findings are promising but cannot be viewed in isolation. Sugarcane production is resource intensive, often requiring the fossil fuels saved by producing bio-PET to support growing the crop in the first place. In addition, as is the case with any large-scale production of feedstock, fertilizers and pesticides are also required. More information on the difficulties in finding sustainable methods of sugarcane production can be found in my earlier blog on Bonsucro’s voluntarily sustainability standards (VSS).

What part will sugarcane play in a sustainable future?

Despite the inherent challenges that come with sugarcane growing, bio-PET demonstrates the crucial role the crop could play in finding an alternative to traditional polyethylene. With many companies across the globe, such as Evian, beginning to set plastic use reduction targets, bio-PET provides an immediate and viable solution that is free of sacrifice. As for Lego’s brick, only time will tell the role sugarcane will play in their future.

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Ragus take steps to combat continuing Brexit uncertainty

Sep 13 2019

With yet another Brexit deadline approaching, businesses are unclear about almost all aspects of a post-EU future. For Ragus, this means taking measures to reassure our customers by replacing conjecture with clarity.

Has anything changed for the sugar industry since the last Brexit deadline?

We are still no nearer to a concrete plan for Britain’s future outside the European Union (EU). Plans made by Theresa May, such as the potentially damaging proposed sugar tariffs discussed in my earlier blog, have not been echoed by Boris Johnson. In fact, continuing with the sugar tariffs example, Johnson said following his election that he would prefer to scrap tariffs altogether.

This level of discontinuity is frustrating. Not only is the most recent Brexit deadline of 31st October fast approaching, the sugar industry is currently in the process of negotiating contracts for the new sugar marketing year, further compounding the situation. As a result, businesses across the country are making decisions on a day-by-day basis. We all hope for clarity as soon as possible so we can begin to properly plan for the future.

The situation, however, is by no means insurmountable. Ragus is always fully equipped to meet customer needs and guarantee supply chains continue to run smoothly. Brexit is no different, and we have already taken specific Brexit-induced steps over the past few years.

What steps have Ragus taken to ensure customer needs are met both pre and post-Brexit?

As was the case in March, the looming Brexit deadline has caused many of our customers to stockpile. Ragus always advise against this approach. Stockpiling goods is expensive and there often isn’t the room in warehouses to store all the necessary goods. More on the effect stockpiling has on the sugar supply chain can be found in the following blog.

To mitigate the need to stockpile, we have globally sourced sugars from countries that will be tariff-free. As a result, Ragus has several months’ worth of sugar in reserve that we can quickly call upon to help go towards meeting customer requirements. Having this amount of sugar contracted and agreed to also means our customers will to some extent be shielded from the potential price increases caused by a potential post-Brexit €150/tonne tariff on white refined sugar imported from the EU.

Having this reserve also means we can deal with the predicted three-year low in sugar production. Total global output is expected to fall 6.4 million tonnes to 180 million tonnes overall. This will put a tightness on the world supply that we can effectively manage.

Ensuring customer needs are always met is central to operations at Ragus. That’s why we have tried to combat Brexit uncertainty by agreeing to contracts that allow us to access several months worth of reserve sugar.

Trying to make sense of conjecture: what does the future hold?

Planning for all possible outcomes is crucial to being suitably prepared for whatever Brexit we are dealt. Such is its importance to the country, one might expect that a specific food and agriculture deal is negotiated either prior or soon after 31st October, providing this ends up being the day Britain leaves the EU. As it currently stands, there appear to be three possible outcomes for the near future:

1. The EU grant a short extension to the current deadline in exchange for a sizeable divorce payment, meaning we leave without a deal and either tariff-free or on the terms outlined by May earlier in the year

2. The EU gives the UK extension until Christmas, resulting in a general election. If a Conservative-Brexit Party majority then wins, sugar could be subject to high import and export duties to and from the EU.

3. A remain-backing party or coalition wins the general election and calls another referendum.

It is entirely possible none of these happen. Such is the level of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, making solid predictions seems futile. That is why Ragus has ensured it is robustly equipped to deal with the situation and ensure all our customers, and in turn, their consumers, remain well stocked and satisfied.

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Taking sugar away is not the answer

Aug 30 2019

The government’s recent sugar-centric attempts to tackle the obesity crisis may be providing only half an answer.

Sugar in the spotlight

Sugar’s recent journey to being firmly on the government’s radar has been several years in the making. It began with the discovery of so-called “hidden” sugars in our foods, in turn leading to an examination of the sugar content in soft drinks. Faced by the societal pressure this generated, government decided to act, introducing the UK’s sugar tax on 6 April 2018.

At Ragus, we have seen attitudes towards sugar peak and trough like this for decades. The acceptance of its presence in our food and drinks follows trends. One minute sugar-free is all the rage, the next consumers are told to embrace the natural benefits of sugar.

Estimated to raise £520 million, the sugar tax will be used to fund sport in primary schools in a bid to address the root cause of the country’s obesity crisis. Initial signs show it is fulfilling this money generating objective. As of last November, £154 million has already been generated.

These numbers make for good reading for lawmakers but beg questions. Anecdotal evidence alone shows that consumers are now turning to cheaper sugar-free options. Is the correct approach to drive them towards these, particularly given that the sugar alternatives they use are not always a healthier bet?

White Sugar

Simply removing sugar from our foods and drinks does not provide a long term solution.

Zero sugar is not always better

The government may be targeting sugar in a bid to deal with the obesity crisis, but have they failed to examine what happens when people choose to consume the alternatives? Often, zero calorie, zero sugar foods and drinks are not healthier. This is because the calories in/calories out view of weight loss ignores the fact that our bodies are complex and nuanced machines.

Zero calorie foods and drinks dampen natural fat burners. Highly processed foods, where they are often found, are essentially pre-digested foods. As such, the body’s natural fat burners do not kick in and become supressed and dormant.

Diet soft drinks, many of which were reformulated after the introduction of the sugar tax to contain no sugar, are equally as misleading. Their sweet taste informs the body to expect the arrival of calories. When this subsequently does not happen, our hunger instinct is triggered, meaning we simply reach for more food.

More needs to be done than erasing sugar

Pinning the blame solely on sugar seems unfair and narrow-minded, especially when we look at the alternatives. A more holistic approach is needed, one that also addresses the misconceptions behind calorific content and the role of fat.

Sugar is essential to our foods and drinks. Wantonly stripping it out can cause more problems than it creates. Initiatives like the sugar tax may have won plaudits, but are they just a short-term fix to an issue that requires addressing through wholesale and lasting change?

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Striking a fair balance: insecticides and sugar beet growing

Aug 08 2019

With increasing pressure from the EU on growers, a solution needs to be found that controls insects but promotes high yields.

Why do sugar beet growers need insecticides?

An insecticide is a substance designed to kill insects, in either adult, larvae or egg form. It is vital to modern day agriculture and is seen as being one of the key drivers behind the enormous boost in agricultural production in the 20th century. This does not mean their use doesn’t present issues, with many having the potential to significantly alter ecosystems and disrupt food chains.

As sugar beet is susceptible to the highly damaging Virus Yellows that are transmitted by aphids, insecticides are essential to ensuring yields remain as high as possible. There are three main yellowing viruses: beet yellowing virus (BYV), beet mild yellowing virus (BMYV) and beet chlorosis (BChV). These can be only be distinguished from one and other through laboratory testing, although each results in varying amount of damage to sugar beet yields.

Such is the potency of all yellowing viruses, the outbreaks of the early 1970s caused many growers to have to give up on beet altogether. Entire fields can quickly be engulfed by the disease, resulting in yield losses of up to 50%. What’s more, there are currently no resistant varieties of sugar beet available to growers across the globe.

Carried by aphids, Virus Yellows have the potential to quickly devastate livelihoods.

What insecticides protect sugar beet crops?

Sugar beet is protected from Virus Yellows by using neonicotinoids as a seed treatment control measure. Developed to mimic the chemical properties of nicotine, the members of this insecticide family used to treat sugar beet seeds include thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid. These are favoured by farmers due to the speed and ease with which they prevent the development of several potentially devastating diseases.

But, as is the case with any insecticide, neonicotinoids do not come without their ecological challenges. When first introduced, they were initially believed to have relatively low toxicity to any insects other than the ones they are designed to kill. This assumption was proved to be wrong after a dramatic loss of beehive numbers in 2006 proved that neonicotinoids were in fact lethal to bumble bees.

As well as killing bees, these crucial pesticides can also attribute to colony collapse disorder (CCD), whereby the majority of worker bees vacate a hive and leave just a handful of nurse bees and a queen behind. In turn, the hive can no longer effectively function, and, as the name suggests, collapses and eventually ceases to exist. Although long anecdotally believed to be caused by neonicotinoids, the link was made concrete in an essay published in the peer-review journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. Due to evidence of this nature and in a bid to protect bee populations, the European Union (EU) restricted the uses of neonicotinoids in 2013 before completely banning their use on any outdoor crop in 2018.

What has been the impact of the EU’s decision to ban neonicotinoids?

As with anything that pits environmental and ecological considerations against the productivity and profits of farmers, the ban has been highly divisive. Environmentalists labelled the initial ban as a “significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations” that was backed up by “crystal clear” public support. Conversely, the UK government, who along with 8 other EU member states voted against the ban, claimed “we did not support the proposal for a ban because our scientific evidence doesn’t support it.”

Unsurprisingly, the reaction from sugar beet growers to the wholesale ban has been overwhelmingly negative, with some even going as far as to suggest it could disrupt yields for the next decade. Although planting fell in Germany for the current season, the UK yield is expected to be at least as high as last year, with this being all the more pleasing giving that the 2019 season is the first to bear the brunt of a total neonicotinoids ban.

The fact that only one season has passed post-ban also shows that more time is needed to draw useful conclusions from its impact. With virus-resistant sugar beet crops at least several years way from being commercially viable, the only interim solution seems to be on that satisfies growers without leading to destruction of bee populations. It remains to be seen what this is, with many farmers still seeing the EU’s decision as short-sighted and not based on concrete scientific evidence.

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How is sugar used in brewing?

Jul 25 2019

You can’t brew without sugar, so what exactly is its role when producing ales, lagers, porters and stouts?

No alcohol without sugar

When making a drink such as an ale, lager, porter or stout, the basic principle is to extract the sugars from grains (typically barley or malt) that yeast can then turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). To achieve this, grains are first malted (dried out and then heated) before then going through a process called mashing (like porridge), in which they are steeped in very hot but not boiling water in order to activate the enzyme that releases its sugars. After this, the resulting sugar-rich water, known as wort, is drained, boiled and hops are added for flavour.

The next stage in the process is where sugar plays its vital part. Once the wort has been strained and filtered, the brewing is complete, and fermentation can begin. To kickstart this, yeast is added to the wort, after which it feeds on the sugar present, producing CO2 and alcohol in the process. Depending on the desired end product, the wort is now left for a set number of weeks at a specific temperature, before it is bottled, aged and ready to be sold as an ale, lager, ale, stout or porter.

The above can be carried out either by relying on the sugar naturally present in the mashed grain or by adding the sugar as an adjunct directly after the mashing process. There was once a time when the majority of malt beers, those produced without any added adjunct sugar, were seen as a superior product, with the use of any external sugar seen as solely the preserve of large scale commercial brewers. Not only has this stance softened, but it ignores the fact that sugar has been used in brewing for centuries and adds colour and flavour as well as speeding up fermentation.

Brewing sugar is essential to ensuring beers of all styles have the perfect taste and colour and ferment at the correct rate.

What is brewing sugar?

In theory, any sugar can be used in brewing. However, for a superior end product that is rich in both the desired colour and flavour and fermentabilities, we always recommend using a brewing sugar. At Ragus Sugars, these are custom formulated to match our clients’ requirements, meaning that we can offer sugars to suit a wide variety of beer styles.

The main difference between a specifically formulated brewing sugar and ordinary household sugar (sucrose) is that the former is mono-saccharide (one molecule of glucose) while the latter is di-saccharide (a pair of glucose modules). Due to this, brewing sugar causes fermentation to start much quicker and leaves a clearer liquid at the end. As well as this, something like sucrose would have to be split by the yeast before it can begin to feed and ferment, often leaving bi-products and impurities that can give the final brewed product a bitter taste and unappealing appearance.

We offer three main brewing sugars at Ragus Sugars (brewer’s sugars no.1,2 or 3), each of which can be offered as either a fully inverted syrup or seeded into a crystalline block. They are all 95% readily fermentable and have the following colours, as certified using the European Brewery Convention: 25-35 EBC; 60-70 EBC; 120-140 EBC. In addition, we also produce candy and glucose chip blocks. As a result, we can cover all styles of colours and flavours.

As we have seen, sugar is a vital component to ensuring both a highly accurate brewing process and high-quality end products. Order your brewing sugar now using our product finder to benefit from Ragus Sugars’ decades of expertise.

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