NEWLY ELECTED North Yorkshire MP Rishi Sunak toured Wensleydale to hear about the acute challenges farmers face as a result of low milk prices.
Mr Sunak, who replaced William Hague to become Conservative MP for Richmond after the general election, yesterday visited three dairy farms and spoke to farmers at Leyburn Auction Mart and at Wensleydale Creamery, also gathering the thoughts of a milk processor from the Creamery’s managing director David Hartley.
The tour was a fact-finding mission ahead of a meeting of the Parliamentary EFRA Select Committee on Tuesday which will hear evidence from industry leaders about the how low prices are affecting farmers.
Latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, show that the average UK farmgate milk price for July was 23.35 pence per litre (ppl), compared to 31.51ppl at the same time last year.
Mr Sunak said: “I received a clear message today. These prices are causing real hardship for many dairy farmers. One told me his monthly milk cheque is almost £6,000 lower than it was last year. Clearly, for farmers working some of the more marginal land in the UK, that’s just not sustainable.
“These farmers are not asking for special treatment, they just want to be treated fairly.
“We have to find a way forward because if dairy farming in Wensleydale is not viable, it will have a profound impact on the landscape that we cherish and which supports the vital tourism industry. It is dairy farming which makes the dale’s lush pastures look the way they look and maintains the stone barns and walls which are so essential to the area’s character.”
Mr Sunak said the information he had gathered today had been vital in providing him with the background to the situation ahead of next week’s select committee meeting.
“I have gathered a huge amount of information and the valuable views of farmers dealing with the reality of this challenge,” Mr Sunak said.
“There is no easy solution but I am sure there are some practical measures that can be implemented to improve the lot of Britain’s dairy farmers in the medium term.”
Echoing calls made by farming groups in recent weeks, he called for a review of the marketing and labelling of British milk and dairy products.
“We need to encourage consumers to buy British, to make it absolutely clear to the consumer what is British dairy produce and for the consumer to know what is at stake if they don’t buy British,” he said.
“I would also like to see production of British cheese, yoghurt and butter ramped up. We import far too much butter and yoghurt in particular. These added value products can offer much greater returns for the industry.
“While some supermarkets have introduced some welcome initiatives to treat farmers fairly, others clearly could do better.”
Mr Sunak said his first job was to raise greater awareness of the plight of dairy farmers, many of whom he said had shown “incredible strength” in the face of adversity.
“Farmers are an incredibly important part of my constituency and I am determined to do what I can to raise awareness of the issues they are facing and see if I can use my position to make some positive changes,” he said.
Earlier in the summer, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) challenged the region’s politicians to fight the corner of Yorkshire’s farmers, after it found that rural areas of the county contribute more than £17bn to the UK’s economy each year.