A Midland farmer last night described British Sugar's decision to close its processing factory in Shropshire as " disgusting" and warned the decision could impact on hundreds of farmers.
Arthur Hill, who farms 200 acres of sugar beet at his family farm Walton Grange in Much Wenlock, Shropshire, said proposals to shut the Allscott factory, near Telford, would have a major impact on his livelihood.
Mr Hill, who is also NFU chairman of cereals, said: "I heard about it this morning. I picked it up on the Reuters wire before it appeared on the British Sugar website, which I think is disgusting.
"There are 670 of us farming sugar beet in the West Midlands region. We will have to change our rotation and grow something else. This is making a major part of our cropping unavailable to us. We use sugar beet as a cash crop. Economically it is a very invaluable part of our income. "My family have been farming it since the 1940s. It is disgusting."
In addition to the closure proposals, British Sugar announced plans to consolidate its operations into four locations in Cantley and Wissington in Norfolk, Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and Newark in Nottinghamshire.
The plans were described by National Farmers' Union officials as a "kick in the teeth" for its members, who now face losing contracts to supply British Sugar.
It has pledged to negotiate the "best possible compensation package" from British Sugar owner Associated British Foods.
An NFU spokesman said: "The timing is a bolt from the blue. Sugar beet is the most profitable of the mainstream arable products and whatever farmers do instead is not going to return as much as sugar."
NFU senior policy adviser Andrew Richards said the news meant an uncertain future for farmers in the Midlands.
"Understandably, growers will be wondering what the future holds for them and their land, given that the nearest factory when Allscott closes will be at Newark in Nottinghamshire.
"There are serious implications for the economies of rural areas in the West Midlands where sugar is grown and the financial repercussions for individual businesses are immense. The timing of the announcement, coinciding with the nation's agricultural showpiece, the Royal Show at Stoneleigh Park, is also particularly damaging for the farming industry."
The Allscott site and one in York are likely to close at the end of the 2006/07 production campaign, which runs from September to February and involves round-the-clock processing.
In 2002, the company closed a plant in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. This resulted in crops from hundreds of farms in the Midlands and surrounding counties being transported to the Allscott plant, near Telford, for processing.
The Shropshire site, which was built in 1927, saw a #20 million expansion programme to allow it to cope with the extra work and to make the process more efficient.