The troubled UK cider group, HP Bulmer, has attempted to clarify its position regarding the payment of apple growers for this year's crop. The company said that it will be paying farmers in full for all fruit it bought from growers and that it had already made part-payments.

However, the company confirmed that it intended staggering payments as part of its strategy to cope with its current financial problems.

A Bulmers spokesman said the company contributed £4m to the local farming economy but said that unless the cider market returned to growth there would be a surplus of cider apples in future years.

With a surplus supply, Bulmers said it would not be using a substantial proportion of this year's crop until next year so the company had entered talks with the Herefordshire Cider Fruit Growers' Association regarding re-phasing payments.

"Reaching agreement on the re-phasing of fruit payments is an integral part of Bulmers' strategy to overcome its temporary financial difficulties," said the spokesman. "Bulmers is committed to maintaining a sustainable and viable cider fruit growing industry in the region."