Soft fruit growers are playing the anti-polytunnel lobby at its own game in a move that threatens to reignite the battle over the plastic structures.
Growers are asking NFU members nationwide to support a planning application for 20ha of polytunnels on a farm in Surrey that was at the centre of a ferocious campaign last year calling for an outright ban.
The NFU emailed members this week urging them to comment in favour of Tuesley Farm's application via the website of Waverley Council, using similar tactics to those deployed in the past by protestors to drum up objections to individual polytunnel developments.
"We've had 284 letters of support for Tuesley, from quite a wide geographical area," said a council spokesman. "By contrast, there have been just 50 objections, mostly from locals."
The NFU denied it was trying to restart the battle over polytunnels. But it admitted Tuesley was still an important symbol for the soft fruit industry, after a judge ruled last year that the farm could not grow fruit under plastic without planning permission.
"There is a strong argument to support Tuesley," said horticulture adviser Philip Hudson. "We put a lot of support behind them before the court case, and we'd be churlish not to do so again - it's a token."
Supporters of polytunnels argue that the 20ha of polytunnels proposed at Tuesley represents a significant compromise, effectively halving the area under polytunnels compared with last year.
Owner Harry Hall said the area represented just under 11% of the total farm and was a good compromise for locals.
"We're also reducing field sizes to appease objectors and saying we won't put polytunnels in neighbouring fields, so the areas under plastic will look much smaller," Hall added.
Tuesley grows strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, mainly for Waitrose.