Crop comment from Turkey: sugar beet and cotton

Turkey is now the world’s seventh-largest agricultural producer and intends to be amongst the top five producers by 2023. Here, we share an insight into sugar beet and cotton production

Sugar beet

Turkey is the world’s fifth largest beet producer, and the largest producer in the Middle East. Its sugar industry is highly subsidized and controlled. Turkish consumers have a sweet tooth; average per capita sugar consumption is 27kg, compared to the world average of 22.6kg.

The crop accounts for about 300,000ha per annum, although this figure fluctuates from year to year – in 2016/17, 321,953 ha were planted and 19,592,000 tonnes were harvested. In 2017/18, production is expected to reach 20,000,000 tonnes.

The majority of the crop is grown in the Central Anatolian region. As farmers gain access to newer varieties, and better understanding of new agronomic techniques, yields have increased. However, regional differences are stark – according to Pankobirlik, the producers’ cooperative, yields are as low as 38t/ha in some regions while in Konya region, where farmers have use of better machinery, irrigation and agronomy, yields have been running between 55 and 60t/ha.

The Sugar Board sets the level of production each year, which is allocated to the seven companies (six private, one state-owned) who process and sell the refined product. Producers then contract growers in the vicinity of their factories (currently 33). During 2016/17, producers received 190TL/t, increasing to 210TL/t for 2017/18. (1TL = €0.21) This compares favorably with producer prices in Western Europe – a trend reflected in the tariffs imposed on foreign sugar imports, which can be as high as 135%.

Although sugar beet is considered a temperate crop, it can be grown successfully in a wide range of climates. Ultimate sugar yield is indicated by ‘polarity’, which is determined by the temperature difference between day and night during the growing season. Correct variety selection in Turkey’s continental climate is essential.

Sugar beet is one of several traditional crops for farmers. Many farmers have grown sugar beet for many years as part of their family heritage. However, government support does play a significant role in sugar beet production because when growers feel confident, they will invest more in their businesses to get better results. Furthermore, they are more open to new technologies, which can make their life easier and simpler, even though most farmers are ‘conventional’. They now only need a manual labour force for weed control (although many farmers are now using herbicide). Other operations are done by machines.

Cotton
Despite Turkish cotton being recognized as some of the best in the world, its production has been in decline over the last 15 years, according to the country’s Home Textiles Industry and Business Association (TESİAD)

Home-grown cotton production was around 850,000 tonnes in 2002, but this dipped to some 550,000 tonnes in 2012 – around a third of the country’s annual consumption. Levels again reached 705,000 tonnes in 2016/17 and are forecast to return to 820,000 tonnes in the current year. This has been helped by lower than expected returns on other crops such as corn, higher world cotton prices and an increase in the growing areas benefitting from irrigation schemes. TESİAD has set a national production target of 2 million tonnes by 2023.

The Turkish Government is supporting this target, having increased the cotton production bonus three years in a row. Other factors include a shakedown in the industry, with those who continue to grow cotton generally being larger, more efficient farmers, with access to certified seeds, mechanical harvesting and larger, unfragmented fields. Producers using certified seeds receive a 10% higher production bonus.

The main initiative expected to increase domestic cotton production is the completion of the Southeastern Anatolian Project (GAP, its Turkish acronym). By financing the construction of dams and irrigation channels, the government intends to bring irrigation water to more than 780,000ha of farmland by 2019 (although the Syrian conflict continues to hamper progress in the south-eastern area).

Turkey joined the Better Cotton Initiative, a non-profit organization that promotes improved standards in cotton production, in 2013. It focuses on more efficient use of water, reduced use of fertilizers and better agronomic understanding. BCI grown cotton is expected to account for no more than 40,000 tonnes in 2017/18, higher profitability pushing up the figure of 32,500 tonnes for 2016/17.

Pests such as bollworm and budworm present the main agronomic headaches for Turkish cotton producers. They continue to lobby the government to reverse the ban on aerial spraying.

Cotton was regarded as “white gold” for many years, but after financial losses, especially in the Mediterranean region, farmers started to replace cotton with other crops. However, in 2016-2017 the government realized that domestic cotton production could only cover 60% of domestic consumption with 40% imported from other countries. The government therefore decided to re-support cotton and last year cotton growing areas were increased by 20%. It is also expected that this growing trend will continue in the coming years.
Mutlu Dumanoglu IS A SUGAR BEET FARMER IN CENTRAL ANATOLIA REGION where the majority of Turkey's sugar beet crop is grown
Mutlu Dumanoglu IS A SUGAR BEET FARMER IN CENTRAL ANATOLIA REGION where the majority of Turkey's sugar beet crop is grown
Turkish Cotton production is forecast to return to 820,000 tonnes in the current year, helped by lower than expected returns on other crops, higher world cotton prices and an increase in the growing areas benefitting from irrigation schemes
Turkish Cotton production is forecast to return to 820,000 tonnes in the current year, helped by lower than expected returns on other crops, higher world cotton prices and an increase in the growing areas benefitting from irrigation schemes
ALI CALISKAN, SUGAR BEET FARMER FROM CENTRAL ANATOLIA REGION - IN 2017/18, SUGAR BEET PRODUCTION IS EXPECTED TO REACH 20,000,000 TONNES
ALI CALISKAN, SUGAR BEET FARMER FROM CENTRAL ANATOLIA REGION - IN 2017/18, SUGAR BEET PRODUCTION IS EXPECTED TO REACH 20,000,000 TONNES
Despite Turkish cotton being recognized as some of the best in the world, its production has been in decline over the last 15 years
Despite Turkish cotton being recognized as some of the best in the world, its production has been in decline over the last 15 years
MEHMET OZ, SUGAR BEET FARMER CENTRAL ANATOLIA REGION - TURKEY IS THE WORLD’S FIFTH LARGEST BEET PRODUCER, AND THE LARGEST PRODUCER IN THE MIDDLE EAST
MEHMET OZ, SUGAR BEET FARMER CENTRAL ANATOLIA REGION - TURKEY IS THE WORLD’S FIFTH LARGEST BEET PRODUCER, AND THE LARGEST PRODUCER IN THE MIDDLE EAST