The French sugar beet crop area is set to fall to a 14-year low this year despite high prices, with farmers deterred by potential crop damage because of pesticide restrictions, the head of beet growers group CGB said on Tuesday.
Based on seed purchases, farmers are expected to sow 6-7% less in 2023 than the previous year, CGB director general Nicolas Rialland told Reuters at the Paris farm show.
A 6% fall would bring the area sown with sugar beet, mostly used to make sugar and ethanol, to 378,000 hectares for its lowest since 2009, official data showed.
The crop area was 402,000 hectares in 2022.
French farmers have suffered poor harvests in recent years and a severe drought cut the 2022 crop by 7% from the previous year.
Two years earlier it declined by about 30%, hit by jaundice disease and summer drought.
Concern over possible crop damage this year has grown after an EU court last month over-turned French policy allowing sugar beet growers another year's use of an insecticide banned by the bloc.
Rialland said many farmers had purchased their sugar beet seeds before the EU ruling.
Some could decide not to use some of their supply to plant alternative crops, leading to an even steeper fall in sugar beet area.
In a sign of concern that farmers could shun sugar beet, French sugar group Cristal Union raised its target price for this year's sugar beet purchases after the EU ruling.
A loss of 30,000 hectares would have significant consequences for production facilities, Rialland said.
European sugar prices have reached record highs in recent months. The latest official data put the average price in the bloc at 655 euros ($695.28) a tonne in December, up 56% on the same time the previous year.