Fresh produce suppliers are calling for retailers to pay them a levy to cover research and development within the industry.

The British Protected Ornamentals Association, whose members supply plants and flowers to

supermarkets, independents and garden centres, has asked for what it claims would only amount to a "fraction of a penny" on each plant.

"Such a small amount would be insignificant for the retailers but would make a big difference for growers," said BPOA chairman Philip Austen.

The NFU backed the plan, although chief horticultural adviser Philip Hudson said it should be seen as a cost-sharing exercise by the supply chain as a whole rather than just an additional cost for the supermarkets.

"Lots of the current research and development work is funded by producers, but retailers ultimately get the benefit from that work," Hudson explained. "If there's an opportunity for retailers to contribute to that then it would be a visible way of supporting the industry."

However, Hudson warned that it would prove difficult to make such a scheme compulsory.

Declining government funding has led to fears that there will be a fall in the level of R&D for horticulture.

Producer organisations have expressed concerns that the upcoming shake-up of the levy board system - in which the Horticulture Development Council will be absorbed into a wider Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board - will mean less money for research.

The National Horticulture Forum is assessing the state of R&D facilities in the UK to establish how much money is needed to keep the leading institutions operating. It is expected to report in June, after which it should be possible to calculate the funding shortfall that may need to be met.