British Sugar: A look behind-the-scenes at the Bury St Edmunds factory

As the sun rose on a hot September morning, the Bury St Edmunds British Sugar factory was busy at work. A constant stream of lorries, carrying the very first harvested sugar beet deliveries of the season, piled the sugar beet high across the open courtyard, witnessed by Farmers Guide.

The Bury St Edmunds site was the first of four British Sugar factories to open its doors in early September, announcing the beginning of the 2023/2024 sugar beet campaign. The Newark site was soon to follow a week later on 11th September, with British Sugar’s largest site of all in Wissington opening on 21st September. British Sugar is now firing on all cylinders, having just opened its fourth site on 9th October.

Farmers Guide took the opportunity to see the first deliveries of the campaign up close, having been kindly invited on site by Andy Simms, general site manager of British Sugar at the Bury St Edmunds site.

British Sugar Bury St Edmunds courtyard full of sugar beet on sunny day
The hot temperatures gave Andy and his team at British Sugar something extra to think about.

Ambient temperatures for sugar beet

Alongside a tour of the site, Andy spoke to us about how early operations at the Bury St Edmunds factory were fairing.

“Most of the kit onsite hasn’t run since February. We are getting it going and finding leaks so there are challenges with that, but we’ve had a safe and reliable start-up.”

Early September clung onto the high summer temperatures of late August, which created testing conditions for Andy’s team.

“Our biggest challenge has been the ambient temperatures; it’s really warm in the sugar factory. For our colleagues inside on a day of 30 degrees, it’s very warm work. It’s a lovely temperature for sugar beet, for sugar content. When the temperatures start to drop, it gets easier for our colleagues inside the factory.”

British Sugar Bury St Edmunds power plant steam billowing
Steam billows from the British Sugar power plant, generating more than enough power for the site.

A net energy exporter

The Bury St Edmunds site is vast, and requires lots of staffing throughout the sugar-making process.

“Across the pre-silo operation, where we make the sugar, and the post silo operation, where we package the sugar up for our customers, we have 330 British Sugar colleagues plus contractors,” Andy explains. “We have 500 deliveries arriving on site today, which is about 14,000 tonnes of sugar beet.”

Such a large site also requires a great deal of electrical and steam power in order to operate each day. Andy explained that the on-site power plant is in fact a net-exporter of energy.

“We take natural gas and convert it into electricity in a combining power plant. This is exported to the National Grid and also produces the steam and electricity requirements of the site.”

Sugar beet crop in field green leaves ready for harvest
The good weather through early September helped the green foliage and sugar beet content right before harvest.

The outlook is bright for great sugar content

Commenting on the expectations regarding sugar content for the early sugar beet harvest, Andy said: “The weather certainly helps. Sugar beet likes the sunshine; the crop is adept at turning the sun’s radiation into sucrose. Days like this really help the sugar content.

“Mother Nature will determine the average overall but so far we are predicting the sugar content to be about average for the last five years.”

Wishing growers a safe campaign

It was clear that safety is the primary concern for Andy and his team, reflected in his parting message: “We wish all our growers, our hauliers and our industrial and agricultural partners a safe campaign.”

Andy Simms of British Sugar Bury St Edmunds with sugar beet behind on sunny day
Andy Simms shared his expertise and insights with Farmers Guide at the start of the sugar beet campaign 2023/2024.

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