Sugar beet cultivation of vital importance for some regions

The lifting season was recently concluded; 13 thousand farmers harvested 90 thousand ha of sugar beets. Twenty years ago the sugar beet production area covered 130.5 thousand ha and there were 21 thousand sugar beet growers. Sugar beets account for almost 5 percent of the total agricultural area in the Netherlands and for 2 percent of total agricultural output.

Sugar beets

Peat districts and North Holland

Sugar beets are mainly grown in the peat districts in the province of Drente and the polders situated in the province of North Holland. Between 15 and 19 percent of these areas is used to grow sugar beets.

Farmers in the provinces of Groningen and Zeeland are largely dependant on sugar beet cultivation. Other important sugar beet cultivation areas are situated in the provinces of Flevoland and Limburg, although a greater variety of agricultural and horticultural products are grown in these areas, making them less economically dependant on sugar beet cultivation.

Restriction on sugar beet cultivation

Since 1999, the sugar beet cultivation areas as well as the amount of sugar beet farmers have diminished gradually. In 2005, there were over 13 thousand sugar beet farmers, nearly one quarter down on five years ago. Small-sized as well as large-scale farms decrease in numbers. In 2004 the sugar beet harvest amounted to more than 6 million tons. The annual output of an average farm (covering 6 ha of sugar beets) is 360 tons.

Cultivation plan for the average arable farm, 2004

The sugar market

The EU has imposed a regulation to the effect that farmers are allowed to produce a certain amount of sugar beets at a fixed, guaranteed price. This regulation of the sugar market is realised by levies on production and imports. In this way, the regulation hardly affects the EU budget. The regulation is indirectly financed by consumers who pay a higher price for sugar and food products containing sugar. According to information provided by sugar producers in the Netherlands, 3,500 fulltime equivalents are involved in the total sugar production chain.

Douwe Kuurstra and Folkert van der Werf