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World Sugar Congress: “We’re Energy Farmers”

  • July 11th, 2007
  • Posted by EUEditor

canegrowers.jpgGrowers of cane and beet — the sugar industry – from over 25 countries this week (11.7.07) declared great interest in getting into bio-fuel production, while admitting the transition stood to be tough.

The delegates, at Brisbane in Australia, heard that falls in EU production had taken a little of the current pressure off prices, though the Europeans reported their industry restructure has been running behind schedule.

WORLD GATHERING

The occasion was ninth triennial conference of the World Association of Beet and Cane Growers.

The outgoing President, Bill Hejl, a beet grower from North Dakota, said the organisation had dropped the word “sugar” from its name to mark its interest in the demand for renewable fuels, like ethanol produced from sugar.

He said governments concerned about global warming and climate change were setting standards, though this meant farmers’ abillity to husband and care for their environment was increasingly being determined by others.

The industry worldwide needed to keep together and keep the initiative in making changes.

“There is a need for positive forward-looking government policies impacting on domestic production, world trade, and the long term health of the planet”, he said.

“Sustainable, reliable, high volume production of renewable transport fuels to offset the decline in the increasingly costly and polluting carbon based fuels is an important step in the right direction.

“Climate change and renewable energy are international matters as important as any national concerns.

“Opportunities presented by the use of bio-technology to develop crops consuming less herbicides, pesticides and fuels are now a reality,” he said.

“We’re energy farmers.”

Future opportunities aside, traditional market concerns were high on the agenda, with high levels of production, stimulated by the entry of India into export markets, and continuing weak prices.

“A drop in revenues has, for those reliant on the world trade, been magnified by a weak US dollar,” Mr Hejl said.

The gathering made a declaration that producers needed to “concentrate their efforts”, if they were to get a good share of the biofuels market.

It also declared that farmers “still hold out hope” for a revival of the Doha Round — multi-lateral trade talks under the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

LOUD NOISES, LOOKING FOR BUSINESS

His successor as President for the coming three years, Alf Cristaudo from Canegrowers Australia, echoed the call to diversify into the energy industries and said countries outside the grower organisation, including Thailand and Indonesia, needed to be included.

“We need to engender the momentum created with the biofuel revolution even further.

“With even more countries on board we would bring great strength to the move to renewable fuels and energy”, he said.

Demand for fossil fuels had not been created for the sugar industry but it could lobby for business in that field.

“The organisation can make louder noises in support of you in your home countries,” he told delegates at Brisbane.

EUROPE’S TROUBLES

European producers had brought their own problems, over slow progress with the sugar industry restructure now approaching its mid-point, and behind schedule in achieving a targeted 20% drop in production – six-million tonnes – over four years (2005-09).

Helen Kirkman, Chief Sugar Adviser to the British National Farmers Union (NFU), told EUAustralia that so far the figure was 2.5-million tonnes, with the reductions program stalling in a number of countries.

The European Union has committed itself to abandoning production-linked subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), moving to eliminate the quota system and instead give direct support linked to measures of efficiency and sustainability.

Ms Kirkman said many producers, notably the United Kingdom growers, had not joined the EU scheme for cutting production, with compensation — operating instead on high efficiency models for their farming.

However great delays in taking less efficient farms out of the industry in other places – notably in Central and Eastern Europe — meant there was now concern that quotas would later be slashed across the board; affecting all and with compensation for none.

I n some cases national governments had been making it difficult for producers to comply with the EU requirements.

She said the industry was this year working towards the mid-term review of the scheme, hoping for adjustments to the system, which would propel more reductions in output.

Picture: Canegrowers Queensland, www.canegrowers.com.au

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