Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sugar Beet Wexford 2015 - The resurrection of the Irish Sugar Beet Industry

Foreword - Agriculture in crisis

Successive Irish governments have neglected the agriculture sector and rural communities for many years now. This is most evident in the fall off in production in the agri food industry. In 2009 our output in that sector was less than it had been two decades earlier which resulted in farm income falling by 30%. Today rural communities are being subjected to the same mismanagement under Fine Gael and Labour as they endured under Fianna Fail and the Greens.

Irish agriculture has been in decline for many years. This has been a global trend. Nationally the number of farms has fallen from 228,000 in 1975 to 128,000 in 2006. It is projected that this decline will continue, reaching 105,000 in 2015, as more small farmers are forced off the land.

The most recent census of agriculture taken in 2010 found that there were 4,424 farms in County Wexford. The average size of a farm in the county is 41.2 hectares.

Despite the assessment that farming is once again very profitable, the reality is very different for many farming families in County Wexford. The majority of small farms in this county are run on a part time basis, with the farmer often holding another 9-5 job. Unfortunately many of these jobs were in the now decimated construction industry.

Clearly Farming has been neglected despite the huge benefits which it provides for our economy. The IFA estimates that farmers and farm families spend €8 billion per year in our economy. It’s thought that 300,000 jobs are supported by the agriculture, food and related industries. For every €100 of agriculture output there is a further €73 of output to the wider economy. 71% of raw materials used by our agri and fishing industries are sourced in the domestic market.

A strong, sustainable agricultural sector will benefit every citizen in this state.

Decline of South East Sugar Beet Industry

County Wexford agriculture was dealt a terrible blow in 2005 when the sugar processing plant in Carlow was closed. Around 700 farmers in County Wexford were engaged in this industry. The factory was closed despite the fact that Greencore was making annual profits in excess of €20 million. Sugar is still a very profitable industry and no attempts to rectify the mistake of closing the industry in the south east has been made by either the present or the last government.

A report by the European Court of Auditors in 2010 found that the closure of the last two sugar plants in Ireland, the Greencore plants at Mallow and Carlow, were needless because both businesses were profitable at the time.

One of the causes for the eradication of the Irish Sugar Beet Industry was the EU’s decision to radically reform the quota system for sugar protection across the Union. Greencore, which incredibly had been allowed to own the entire Irish sugar quota, decided it was a good time to get out.

2015 - The resurrection of the Sugar Beet Industry

Greencore was allowed to sell out Irelands sugar beet quota, leading to the end of a clearly profitable, vitally important agri business. We no longer legally have the ability to produce sugar beet in this state. This is not permanent however and a window of opportunity exists to allow Ireland back into the sugar trade.

The present quota regime runs until the 30th September 2015, though attempts are being made by vested interests to move this deadline to 2020. If the deadline is not tampered with, 2015 will be the perfect time for our sugar beet industry to be ready for full production.

A 2011 feasibility study completed by the Irish Sugar Beet Bio-Refinery Group recommended that the industry should be revived in its traditional growth region of the south east through the construction of a new integrated bio-refinery plant for the production of sugar and ethanol from sugar beet and grain.

The think tank stated that such a factory would cost €350 million, would create five thousand jobs and be profitable within the first year. In order to be so lucrative, sugar beet prices need to be above €570 a tonne. When you take that sugar beet prices currently stand at €850 per tonne for imported sugar, the revival of our domestic sugar beet industry makes total economic sense.

Wexford farmers were allowed to lose their livelihoods so the factory could be sold in a misguided attempt at property development. In addition to sugar beet being a profitable venture, growing it also enhances soil fertility and yields of other tillage crops. Sinn Féin believes that it is not too late to bring this industry back to the south east.

New Ross - The perfect site for a new plant

Following the closure of Irelands last sugar beet processing plant in 2006, former beet farmers came together all over the country to look at ways to resurrect their industry and look at a locations for new processing plants. One of the locations that was proposed at this time by the experts in the field, the farmers themselves, was New Ross.

Historically Wexford and Cork were the two dominant counties in the production of sugar beet. Wexford had the most farmers involved in the production of sugar beet in the south east, and its long tradition of beet farming and strong crop growing sector would evidently mean that it would have the most again should the industry be revived. This, coupled with the availability of the now empty Rosslare to Waterford Rail Line network and the standing logistical infrastructure already in place in Wellingtonbridge, makes this county the perfect location for a new bio-refinery plant.

The benefits would be mutual. Ireland would have back a profitable agri industry that should never have been allowed to go in the first place, while Wexford would see much of its unused rail network back in service and funding could become available for a number of key infrastructure projects that would benefit the entire population of the county. For example, there would be a new urgency for a second bridge in New Ross if a new processing plant was located there.

As well as the five thousand jobs that would be created directly through the opening of a new plant, many more jobs would be created through the development of new, and maintenance of existing, infrastructure utilised by the resurrected sugar beet industry.

Summary of our proposals

- The government must negotiate Irelands re-entry into the sugar market when the current EU quota system ends in 2015.

- A new bio-refinery plant for the production of sugar and ethanol from sugar beet and grain to be built in New Ross.

- Consideration should be given to the reopening of the unused rail lines in County Wexford for use in the transport of sugar beet into Ross. Most notably the recently closed Rosslare to Waterford Rail Line, which always played a prominent role in beet production in Wexford, should be reopened.

- The utilisation of re-education groups like FAS/SOLAS to train unemployed people for future careers in the sugar processing sector.


2010 Census of Agriculture
Food Harvest 2020
IFA Pre Budget Submission 2012
Awakening the West – Overcoming Social and Economic Equality
2011 feasibility study by the Irish Sugar Beet Bio-Refinery Group

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