Any proposals to re-establish sugar production must be supported by a robust business case to attract the substantial level of funding required to re-establish the sector in Ireland, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has said.
He said that any return to the sugar sector would need to be industry-led.
Speaking in response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley TD, he said that since 2006, a number of groups have expressed an interest in the redevelopment of the sugar sector, two of whom prepared desktop feasibility studies between 2010 and 2011.
“In their findings, both proposals sought to develop a new sugar and bio-ethanol production facility with capital costs, estimated at the time, of between €250m and €400m.
“In 2018, I understand that Beet Ireland sought to engage with interested growers in an equity partnership proposal to develop a sugar processing facility in the southeast. However, the group announced in June 2019 that it was postponing its plans.
“The Department continues to monitor market trends in the sector, but it must be noted that the landscape has completely changed since Ireland exited sugar production and EU sugar quotas were abolished,” he said.
The Minister pointed out that in 2006, the EU introduced a restructuring mechanism intended to reduce overall production of sugar, acknowledging the then global over-supply and resultant low prices being achieved.
“Ireland secured €353m as part of the reform package, with some €220m being distributed to beet growers and a further €6m to machinery contractors in the sector.
“As part of the reform of the CAP, agreement was secured on the abolition of sugar quotas from 30 September 2017. From that date, investors in the European Union, including Ireland, are free to invest in sugar-producing capacity if they wish.”
Earlier this month at an Irish Grain Growers (IGG) group meeting in Meath, Pat Cleary of the group said that Ireland could help meet its 400,000ha target of land under tillage by planting sugar beet.
“Dare I say it … if there’s going to be a 400,000ha target, surely to god there should be an allocation of at least 25,000ha to 30,000ha of sugar beet, another sustainable crop,” he said.
Cleary, who was involved in Beet Ireland, said a 30,000ha target is feasible.
“Beet Ireland is still a limited company. We still own the same site that we bought for the sugar factory. We have it in for zoning for an agri-food hub at the moment,” he said.