Re-establishing the sugar beet industry in Scotland

Sugar beet was once grown by many farmers in Eastern Scotland, with crops sent to a single large factory in Fife for processing. However, due to low crop yields, high costs and challenging market conditions the Fife facility closed in the 1970’s. Since then, the UK’s beet growing and processing areas have been confined largely to the East of England whilst the Scottish sugar industry ceased to exist. Today though, advances in the agronomy of sugar beet and growing demand for bio-based fuels and chemicals have improved productivity and potential for added-value, leading to the question ‘is it possible to re-establish a sugar beet industry in Scotland?’ being posed.

NNFCC were commissioned by Scottish Enterprise to answer this question and to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for a potential sugar beet biorefinery producing bioethanol and other bio-based products to be established in Scotland.

NNFCC used in-house agricultural, supply chain and bioeconomy market knowledge and expertise to appraise the opportunity, and also worked with Audrey Litterick of Earthcare Technical Ltd who has practical experience of the Scottish agricultural sector to provide a more ‘local’ perspective. A literature review was followed by direct stakeholder engagement with key individuals and organisations involved in the sugar supply chain or related industries, to identify particular risks and challenges, to quantify the potential and identify actions.

Published in June 2019, the report provides an assessment of the following key points:

  • Suitability of modern sugar beet varieties to Scottish growing conditions and potential land available
  • Calculation of total potential crop yield, and the yield of sugar juice and co-products from beet processing
  • Opportunities for industrial biotechnology and biorefinery speciality products
  • Assessment of the policy landscape for sugar and bioethanol
  • Economic appraisal, including: costs of growing & establishing the supply chain, transport costs, biorefinery capital outlay & operating costs, market for products and co-products.
  • Scenario analysis for Scotland to produce its own fuel ethanol at different blend ratios

The scenarios were developed, again using NNFCC’s in-house knowledge of the agricultural sector and wider industry, based on feasible supply or demand scenarios, taking into consideration land availability, competing demands, logistics, technology and economies of scale.

The results were promising and the findings and recommendations have been presented to the Scottish Government and other key stakeholders who have an interest in taking the review to the next stage, to identify suitable partners, markets and funding streams, as well as exploring the economics in more detail. We look forward to seeing how this project might be expanded upon and the impact it will have on the Scottish economy in the future.

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