French Sugar-Beet Production Falls on Lower Yields, Growers Say

The sugar-beet harvest in France, the world’s largest, declined after dry weather in June and July hurt yields, growers group Confederation Generale des Planteurs de Betteraves said.

Sweetener content in the roots also fell because of less sunshine in August and the start of September, causing production of sugar per hectare (2.47 acres) to fall 8.8 percent to an estimated 12.5 metric tons from 13.7 tons in 2009, the group said in a presentation at its Paris headquarters today.

White, or refined, sugar prices have jumped 60 percent in London in the past six months after rain reduced production in Brazil and India, the two biggest producers. The European Union is a net importer of the sweetener.

“There could be a certain tension in the market,” Alain Jeanroy, the CGB’s director-general, said at a news conference. “We had expected to rebuild stocks, and in the end that’s not going to happen, that’s why prices continue to be high.”

French beet production is estimated to have dropped to 72 tons per hectare from 74 tons last year, while sugar content in the roots slipped to 18 percent from a record 19.4 percent in 2009, the growers association said.

Based on standardized sugar content of 16 percent, this year’s beet production would amount to 31.3 million tons, down from 35 million tons in 2009, Jeanroy said. Actual output is around 27 million tons this year, he said.

Surplus Beets

French farmers harvested 2 million to 3 million tons more beets than can be used to produce sugar for the EU internal market, ethanol or chemicals, according to the CGB. Of the so- called out-of-quota beets, about 2 million tons have already been accounted for through EU export certificates, leaving as much as 1 million tons of surplus beets, Jeanroy said.

The EU should reclassify the surplus out-of-quota beets so sugar produced from the roots can be sold on the 27-nation bloc’s domestic market, Jeanroy said. That would reduce “unnecessary” trade flows that include the EU exporting out- of-quota sugar while at the same time importing from countries including Brazil, he said.

High world-market prices have caused the EU to become a less attractive market for sugar exporters, meaning the bloc’s imports in the 2009-2010 marketing year through October were 2.7 million tons, compared with expectations for 3.5 million tons, Jeanroy said.

The current EU sugar regime ends in 2014, and the bloc should maintain regulations including the quota and a reference price to protect domestic production, said Jeanroy and CGB President Eric Laine.

Brazilian Costs

“In beets, there is no country currently that that can be competitive in the world market” against sugar cane, Jeanroy said. “There is no need to change the regulation.”

Beet-sugar production costs in the EU are around 400 euros ($534) a ton, compared to costs of 300 euros a ton in Brazil for sugar from cane, according to Laine.

“It will be difficult for the market to structurally drop below 14 to 15 cents, which corresponds to the Brazilian production costs,” Jeanroy said, referring to prices a pound. Raw sugar for March delivery recently traded at 28.69 cents a pound in New York.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at rruitenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net.

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