The Courier & Advertiser (Fife Edition)

When Cupar was sugar beet processing centre of Scotland

When Cupar was awash with sugar beet

- PeTe small

Anyone who attended Cupar Heritage Centre’s “Sugar Town” exhibition this year will realise that it is the ninetieth anniversar­y of the sugar beet factory opening in the town.

It was in November 1926 when Scotland’s only beet factory began slicing its first intake.

The factory, now a trading estate which still has the 1960s storage silo dominating the skyline, was situated next to the River Eden which supplied the vast quantities of water needed in the factory process.

It was also adjacent to the main east coast railway line which brought thousands of tons from as far north as Morayshire and as far south as the Borders into the special factory sidings.

The local crop was delivered by fleets of lorries and tractors and trailers for processing into sugar for the nation’s tea, jam and cakes.

Sugar beet had been introduced commercial­ly to the UK in 1912 when Dutch experts advised farmers on growing the crop and the constructi­on of the first factory at Cantley in Norfolk.

The privations of the First World War forced the Government to instigate initiative­s to encourage home-grown sugar beet.

Up until then the nation had relied on cane sugar from its West Indian colonies.

In contrast its European neighbours had been growing sugar beet since Napoleon had recognised the importance of home grown sugar supplies.

Initially small independen­t sugar companies began the expansion of the crop in the UK and the factory at Cupar was commission­ed by the 2nd AngloScott­ish Sugar Beet Corporatio­n who were led by Lords Weir and Invernairn.

The Cupar factory was constructe­d in 1926 as a copy of their first plant at Colwick in Nottingham­shire.

Meanwhile further factories were opening in eastern and midland counties of England with 18 commission­ed by 1928.

The smaller beet companies were disbanded in 1936 after the Government formed the British Sugar Corporatio­n to oversee the industry.

Cupar had a long battle convincing farmers of the benefits of the crop which was very labour intensive during the busy autumn period.

Factory fieldsmen encouraged growers to abandon turnip growing machinery and methods such as growing the crop on drills.

Widely popular was the by-product beet pulp as an addition to the rations for finishing the many cattle and sheep of the area.

Gradually the acreage increased but Cupar always struggled for tonnage.

The factory had to haul beet from long distances so the finances were not good and it was threatened with closure in the 1930s.

The Second World War gave the factory a reprieve as farmers were ordered to grow beet as part of the war effort and this led to a much larger tonnage passing through Cupar.

Winston Churchill passed the factory and enquired why it was standing idle – which all beet factories did outwith the harvesting season or “campaign”.

Churchill insisted that another food production role be found, so powdered potatoes were produced in the close season.

Post war saw tonnages increased into the 1950s when many Lewis men were recruited from the Western Isles for each campaign.

However by the 1960s tonnage and investment was required but just when better machinery, pesticides and monogerm seed arrived, the factory, though strongly fought over, closed in 1972. And now sugar beet is back in the fields again, although this time for energy not for eating.

The local crop was delivered by fleets of lorries and tractors and trailers for processing into sugar for the nation’s tea, jam and cakes.

 ??  ?? Lorries being unloaded outside the factory.
Lorries being unloaded outside the factory.

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