Floods, mud and dire conditions have made the 2023-24 sugar beet campaign one of the longest in history - but it has finally ended.

British Sugar confirmed that the last sugar beet was sliced at its Cantley factory on April 19 - bringing the total amount of time spent harvesting and processing the crop to 228 days.

During that time the company's four factories - including Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk - have processed more than eight million tonnes of beet since the start of the campaign in September 2023. 

Between them, the factories have produced around 1.1 million tonnes of sugar. 

Bury St Edmunds processed 2.5m tonnes of sugar beet - equating to around 0.37m tonnes of sugar.

Meanwhile Cantley processed 1m tonnes (0.1m tonnes of sugar) and Wissington – processed 3.1m tonnes (0.43m tonnes of sugar).

It is now poised to invest in plant and equipment at its Bury St Edmunds site - as well as the other factories.

During the campaign many records were broken, said British Sugar - with all four factories performing well.

Wissington experienced its second largest campaign with more than 3.1 million tonnes of beet processed.

Newark is thought to have experienced the longest sugar beet campaign in Europe totalling 217 days.

Meanwhile, Bury St Edmunds achieved a record for maintaining a premium slice rate over a period of 69 days versus 66 days the previous year.

Recent investment in a £17.5m evaporator at Wissington in autumn 2023 to improve energy efficiency led to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions.

British Sugar agriculture director Dan Green admitted that farmers and hauliers overcame huge challenges to get the crop in. 

“We have just concluded one of our longest ever campaigns," he said.

"It has been challenging for the whole industry given the amount of rainfall this winter and we want to recognise the effort our growers, harvesting contractors and hauliers have made to deliver this year’s crop into our factories.

"We are delighted with how well the factories have run over the campaign, showing that the investments we continue to make as a business ensure we are one of the most efficient processors of beet in Europe.”

With dire conditions in the fields this winter/spring, the company announced a multi-million-pound grower support package.

It reduced its slice rates at its factories to slow down throughput - which gave growers more time to lift and deliver their beet crop.

A supplementary boiler was hired and commissioned at the Cantley factory, and the business offered to meet 75% of additional costs for Bury and Wissington growers to divert their beet to Cantley or Newark once their closest factory shut.

The challenges have continued into the new 2024-25 season for growers, but Mr Green said he was optimistic about the new crop in spite of higher aphid pressure this year and concerns over virus yellows - another threat the crop faces.

“This is the fourth year in a row where we have seen drilling take place during mid-spring. As of this week, we are over 85% of growing area drilled with sugar beet seed and we expect all crop to be sown by the end of April," he said.

“The crop area will be over 100,000 hectares, slightly ahead of last year. Providing we have some favourable weather during the summer, we expect to see some good crops, good yields and some good margins for our growers.

"This should encourage further investment in the industry, which is what we all want for the long-term."

British Sugar said it has ambitious investment plans over the coming years at each of its four factories and its customer supply site at Bury St Edmunds.

They include new evaporators at Bury St Edmunds pre-silo to remove 20,000 tonnes of CO2e emissions ready for the 25/26 campaign.

It is also making its final investment into the site's supply site retail bagging operations.

It also hopes to commission steam drying investment at Wissington for the 26/27 campaign with the potential to reduce site CO2e emissions by a further 50,000 tonnes a year.

It is investing in Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and water treatment plants at Cantley, while a new turbine and water treatment plant at Newark is now fully operational

British Sugar is the sole processor of the UK’s beet sugar crop and works with around 2,300 growers in the East of England, East Midlands and Yorkshire.

This year's sugar beet campaign coincided with the eighth wettest winter since records began.