NFU President Ben Gill has written to the Department of Trade and Industry urging the Government to fight a European Commission proposal that would close off a key source of fertiliser to UK farmers.

Mr Gill’s call comes ahead of a meeting in Europe this week for initial discussions on proposals to impose “anti-dumping” tariffs on urea from Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Libya, Lithuania, Romania and the Ukraine.

The effect of the tariffs would be to block off a major source of competitively priced fertiliser to Europe and mean that 85% of all imported nitrogen fertiliser would be subject to duties.

In the letter, Mr Gill tells DTI Secretary of State Patricia Hewitt: “The timing of the imposition of tariffs on such an important agricultural input at a time when the whole industry is still in crisis could not be worse.

“Fertiliser prices rose by some 50% last year while farm incomes fell by 25% to a new historic low. British farmers will simply not manage to absorb any extra costs as a result of this. “

The Commission’s Anti-Dumping Committee will discuss the issue on Thursday. The Council of Ministers will make a final decision in the next four to five months.

Anti-dumping duties are already in place on imports of ammonium nitrate from Russia, the Ukraine and Poland following complaints from European manufacturers that dumped fertiliser was under-cutting the market, despite an NFU campaign opposing their imposition.

Separately, the NFU has persuaded the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the operation of the UK fertiliser market. It is clear that, despite imports, manufacturers are currently in profit.

Mr Gill added that the cost of urea has already risen in the last year as the price of ammonium nitrate has soared.

He said: “I am extremely concerned that all markets for farm inputs must be competitive if British farmers are to restore profitability.”