News that a site is to be acquired on the Carlow-Kildare border for a proposed new sugar beet processing site has been widely welcomed.
It’s believed that a 200-acre at Plumperstown, near Castledermot, just off the M9, the site is to be bought by the Beet Ireland group with the aim of producing almost 200,000 tonnes of sugar annually. This represents good news for farmers in the South East, 12 years after the last sugar plant (Siúcra/Greencore) in Mallow closed.
Back in 2006, Greencore, which held the total Irish sugar quota, opted to avail of the EU voluntary scheme to close down its facilities in Tuam, Thurles, Carlow and Mallow. This also led to the end of the beet trains which used to run through Carrick-on-Suir and a major financial hit for Irish Rail in the process.
The winding up of the beet industry generated €353 million, with €200m of that going to beet growers, €127m to Greencore and €6m to machinery contractors. Pre-abolition, there were 285,000 sugar beet growers in the Republic: this now stands at 160,000.
Beet Ireland Chairman Michael Hoey said they had developed a viable business plan that would require approximately 30,000 hectares of beet to produce its annual target of sugar tonnage.
“It’s vitally important that young farmers get behind this initiative,” he said. “If people want it bad enough it will happen,” he said.
We believe this is a positive and necessary development and one which the region and the country would stand to benefit from enormously should it proceed.
Given how much farmers have lost in grain harvesting in recent years, one suspects it will not be too difficult to persuade many of them to get back into beat in a comprehensive manner.
We hope that interested farmers get the support they need to make the factory proposal a reality.
Carlow-based TD Pat Deering, who chairs the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee, believes a study needs to be carried out to ensure that the metrics required to re-establish the sugar beet industry are sound and sustainable.
“The return of the sugar industry would create hundreds of direct jobs, it would also lead to significant bio-ethanol production and would allow for the production of feed products from the by-products of the beet,” said the Fine Gael Deputy. He also suggested that a Government grant could be made available to help develop the mooted plant, which could cost €4m to build.
A meeting of grain growers was held in Bunclody on Wednesday last where a great deal of support was expressed for the proposal.
While in Belgium last year, we were shown a huge sugar beet plant at Hainaut in production, providing many jobs in a rural location. Belgium has 5,000 beet farmers working on 47,000 hectares (one and a half times the Irish production target) and harvest time occurs between September and January. There are also viable beet industries in both France and The Netherlands.
So here’s hoping Beet Ireland wins the backing of Irish farmers and benefits from Government funding, both of which are required to revive a once thriving industry.