DAIRY farmers facing the challenge of low milk prices made their views known to their MP.

Richmond MP Rishi Sunak spent a day touring Wensleydale speaking to more than 25 dairy farmers about the slump in prices that has hit their income.

With many farmers receiving less for their milk than it costs to produce, the farm gate prices currently paid threaten the viability of farms in one of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes.

The MP’s fact-finding tour took place ahead of a special session of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee, of which he is a member.

His tour took him to three farms in the dale and he met groups of farmers at the Wensleydale Creamery, Hawes, and Leyburn auction mart. During his time at the creamery, he also spoke to Wensleydale Dairy Products managing director David Hartley to understand the perspective of a milk processor.

The three farms he visited were Matthew Bell, at Semmerdale Hall Farm, near Askrigg, a supplier to the creamery, tenant farmer James Dent, at West End Farm, Swinithwaite, and Ian Carlisle’s block calving operation at Thornton Lodge, Finghall, near Leyburn. The tour was organised by Jim McRobert, of Carrs Billington.

Mr Sunak heard how dairy farmers have had their income slashed in 2015 by a combination of factors including global over supply caused by the Russian import ban and a reduction in the dairy trade with China, and intense competition between UK supermarkets, some of which use milk as a loss leader.

He 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."

Mr Sunak said at the Efra select committee which was held on Tuesday, the Farming Minister George Eustace and leading dairy industry figures would be giving evidence. His Wensleydale visit had been vital in providing him with the background to the situation.

He 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.

"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."

One of the farmers visited, James Dent, of West End Farm, Swinithwaite, welcomed Mr Sunak’s visit. He said: "It makes a lot of sense for him to see what it’s really like on the ground. It’s very good of him to come here to see us."