The first steps are being taken to provide a compensation framework for growers in the event of a major outbreak of a horticultural disease.

National Farmers' Union officials are talking to officials at Defra about how the cost of clearing up would be met should a notifiable disease be discovered in UK crops.

NFU horticulture chairman Richard Hirst said under current legislation farmers and growers faced heavy bills because disease outbreaks in plants fell outside statutory compensation legislation.

However, plans for a package for the livestock industry currently under discussion in the EU are expected to pave the way for similar moves on horticulture.

"In the past, the farmers involved have been virtually bankrupted by these costs," said Hirst. He added that Defra had agreed to look at the economic costs of disease hitting the horticultural sector.