Many farmers remain dubious about the proposed plant as the base price for sugar beet in Germany is presently just €26 per ton. Farm sources suggest a consistent €37 per ton would be needed for a reliable profit.
Global prices are rising and an IBEC report last week predicted EU sugar shortages for the third year running, all of which should push up prices.
Thousands of farmers will give the proposal a fair hearing at public events next week in Wexford, Tipperary, Carlow and Waterford, culminating in a mass meeting at Midleton Park Hotel, Cork, at 8pm on Tuesday week, February 9.
County Enterprise Boards throughout Munster are also following the proposal with interest.
The sector employed 4,000 people until its closure in 2006. Earlier this week, Food Harvest 2020 chairman Dr Seán Brady accused politicians of “taking advantage” of farmers who wish to replant the crop, adding: “No plant that works for 90 days a year can be economical.”
In Brussels on Wednesday, a high-level European Commission group responded positively to the case presented to them by former beet chairmen Jim O’Regan of Cork and Willy French of Wexford, Cllr Tom Barry and MEP Máiréad McGuinness.
The meeting was addressed by Luis Carazo, head of the EC unit with responsibility for sugar.
Cork-based Fine Gael Cllr Tom Barry said: “Luis Carazo stated that the restructuring was a process for each processor to evaluate for themselves and was open to all processors regardless of weather they are the sole processor, as was the case in Ireland.
“He also stated that the sugar quota in its present form is to end in September 2015.
“He outlined the future options for Ireland which include ethanol production, biopolymer production and possibly sugar production from 2015. We also discussed the option of producing sugar under export licence.
“Ethanol on its own would just about pay its way, but along with sugar and biopolymer production the plant should work.
“Project Management in Cork are looking at the feasibility study. When that is completed we will be in a position to begin negotiations on building the new plant.
“In Brussels, we also met with [European beet growers group] CIBE, who were very critical of the way the Irish sugar industry was cannibalised to make way for golf courses. They showed us a newspaper article from 2006 in which Greencore stated that the sugar industry couldn’t work in Ireland.
“In fact, Greencore would have made €70 million over the last five years had they stayed in sugar. They made a financial clanger when they decided to close.”
Former beet growers Jim O’Regan and Willy French informed the EU representatives of the growing interest among Irish farmers in reviving the industry in Ireland.
They also recalled the circumstances in which the industry was shut down, including the fact that Irish farmers were not told they had four different options on how the beet sector could be restructured.
- RTÉ1’s Ear To The Ground will feature a report on the sugar beet industry at 8.30pm on Tuesday.