Chancellor Rishi Sunak is being urged to do whatever possible to help the struggling cider industry, currently facing its worst-ever crisis because of coronavirus.

The plea has come from Conservative Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset and chairman of the all-party parliamentary cider committee.

He wants the Chancellor to consider support for the industry as he starts drawing up his Autumn Statement but is warning that the current situation is so serious the very existence of some smaller producers could already be under threat.

Cider sales have been declining in recent years but have suffered a huge slump this year as a result of pubs being put out of action during lockdown.

As a result of that cider makers are sitting on huge volumes of unsold stock and there is no home for hundreds of tons of fruit which would normally be harvested and pressed this autumn.

Some growers’ contracts were cancelled and many acres of trees grubbed up when sales took a severe downward turn last year, but coronavirus has now plunged the industry into unprecedented difficulties, with the likelihood that the latest restrictions on pub opening hours will merely compound them.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said the situation starkly illustrated the difference between brewing and cider-making but actually reinforced the argument for making cider a special case when it came to duty rates.

“Brewing is an industrial process which takes place largely in urban areas and which can quite literally be turned on and off like a tap” he said.

“Cider-making is radically different. For one thing it involves a supply chain which reaches right back into the heart of the countryside and for another it depends on long-term planning.

“Demand has to be anticipated by planting new trees but there is always the risk that in the seven or eight years they take to start fruiting commercially the market will have gone into reverse and there will be no outlet for the apples.

“What we are seeing here is an extreme example of that. For the cider makers times are difficult enough but at least they still have stock to sell. But for the growers who have been told their fruit isn’t wanted it’s a catastrophic year."

Mr Liddell-Grainger said cider had traditionally received favourable treatment over duty because the industry created jobs in rural areas and because cider orchards – completely untouched for most of the year –were a huge national environmental asset.

He concluded: “A duty cut would have little negative impact on the Treasury’s tax take but it would provide a short-term sales stimulus as well as sending a signal to growers that the Government does have the industry’s interests at heart and is keen to ensure it comes through its present difficulties.”