Many dairy farmers are now in "absolute crisis" due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) president has warned - writes Luke Powell.

Minette Batters said the closure of restaurants and hotels had resulted in the partial collapse of the dairy market, with about one-third of farmers in the industry affected.

Speaking at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on Tuesday, she said she was "hoping and praying" the Government would announce financial support for the sector this week.

Ms Batters said: "There are many farmers now in absolute crisis.

"We have got a lot of them on a relatively stabilised price of 15p per litre (of milk). That is about 10p and more below the cost of production. It is not a sustainable place to be.

"This is a really, really critical area for some farmers, they are absolutely hanging on by the skin of their teeth."

Tom Hind, chief strategy officer for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, said dairy farmers lost £7.4 million collectively in April through milk price cuts alone.

He told the committee that the figure could increase to £14 million in May.

"There is something like two million litres-worth of milk per day that would be going into food services market that isn't doing that," Mr Hind said.

"Despite the increase in retail demand, you've seen an overall loss of demand that would have otherwise been there."

The plant-growing market has also "completely collapsed" during the pandemic, with two-thirds of businesses in the industry "looking at insolvency" unless garden centres reopen soon, Ms Batters said.

The NFU wants the dairy sector to have access to a similar grant scheme to that available to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses.

Meanwhile, the committee also discussed the recruitment of British workers to help pick fruit and vegetables this summer, in lieu of foreign seasonal labourers.

Mr Hind said: "The industry is still nervous and anxious about the situation for the forthcoming season."

He said while some businesses had been able to recruit British workers, "the impression you get talking to growers is that it's not easy".

"I think the labour providers would indicate that whilst they've had a massive amount of interest, the conversion of that interest into workers on the ground isn't absolutely perfect," Mr Hind added.

However, Jack Ward, chief executive officer of the British Growers Association, said the response had been "very good" in the UK.

Mr Ward said: "I was talking to a grower this morning and they had 2,000 applications and they offered jobs to 500 UK workers.

"They went through the applications very carefully to try and pick people they thought would best suit the seasonable jobs that were available rather than take everybody, because it is quite physically demanding."

According to the British Growers Association, there was a need for around 70,000 seasonal staff a year.

It said that due to the new post-Brexit points-based immigration system being introduced, there were just 10,000 permits available under a seasonal workers' pilot scheme for non-UK nationals - a shortfall of around 60,000.