A huge groundswell of support for the British dairy industry has seen more than 2,230 letters written to nearly 400 MPs, as part of an NFU campaign, calling for urgent help to save a sector hit severely by the coronavirus pandemic.

The almost complete closure of food service and hospitality outlets has meant the loss of market for around eight million litres of milk per week.

Already, a quarter of all dairy farmers in England and Wales have been hit financially as a result.

MPs are being asked to call on government to intervene and address the unfolding crisis and protect dairy farming businesses from irreversible damage.

NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes said: “This is a totally unprecedented and extremely fast-moving situation.

"I’m speaking to dairy farmers every day who’ve hit rock bottom, many significantly impacted by the huge disturbances in the market and now facing deferred payments, uncollected milk and changes to contracts.

“It’s not just cash flow that’s affected. We have also seen a raft of price cuts to dairy farmers on the back of the market disturbances.

"Some farmgate prices are now estimated to be in the region of 17-22ppl, which is clearly unsustainable when their cost of production will be well in excess of that.

“Defra and government have to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

"That’s why we are encouraging dairy farmers and the public to write and engage with their local MPs to ensure they are aware of the issues and the actions needed to avoid irreparable damage to the dairy supply chain.

“Unprecedented times mean we need unprecedented measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of the iconic British dairy sector - the backbone of rural life. Hardworking dairy farmers and cows producing nutritious, delicious products for the nation, need our help now.”

NFU and dairy industry proposals to government include:

• A targeted grant scheme for affected farmers that is similar to the Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme.

• Engagement with the EU Commission to introduce market support measures, such as Private Storage Aid.

• A novel cow furloughing scheme run by government to help reduce production on a voluntary basis.