French farmers should consider turning back to sugar beet in 2024 after a drop in planted area in recent years, France's No. 2 sugar maker Cristal Union said, citing good weather conditions and a favourable economy as sugar prices soar.
Cristal Union's comments come days after competitor Saint Louis Sucre, owned by Germany's Südzucker, asked farmers not to increase the area sown with sugar beet in 2024 amid strong competition from Ukrainian sugar.
Sugar prices have hit record highs in the European Union due to a deficit in the bloc linked particularly to falling output in France, where farmers have been deterred by poor harvests in recent years.
'With weather conditions favourable to the cultivation of beet and a buoyant economic situation, the conditions are met to put beet back at the heart of crop rotations,' Cristal Union said in a statement.
"France is the leading beet producer in Europe and must remain so," chair Olivier de Bohan said in the statement, adding the cooperative was ready to welcome new members.
French farmers are in the process of choosing their crop rotations for next season, with rapeseed sowings already over and wheat due to start later this month.
For this year's crop, Cristal Union, which launched its 2023 beet harvest on Wednesday, estimated the sugar content at around 14 metric tonnes per hectare, in line with the five-year average.
Rain in July and early August helped regular growth while sunny weather at the end of August and early this month have supported beet growth over the last few weeks, it said.
The French farm ministry has forecast the sugar beet harvest nearly 1% below last year's at 31.2 million tonnes as higher yields fail to compensate for a smaller planted area.