This week Conservative MP for Aylesbury, David Lidington, writes to Bucks Free Press readers...

One of my first constituency visits after the General Election was to a dairy farm in Lacey Green. It was interesting but also concerning to spend time hearing about the challenges that our farmers face today in making a profit in a volatile and rapidly changing market for food.

We as consumers demand the highest standards of hygiene and food safety. There’s a fascinating TV documentary Inside the Factory (available on BBC iPlayer) that follows milk from a dairy farm in Bledlow to the Arla milk processing factory outside Aylesbury and on to customers.

The rigour of testing is impressive. If milk from just one sick cow introduces antibiotics into a load, it can lead to an entire tanker of milk being poured away.

Of course a consequence of these rules is that farmers have to invest in more high tech equipment to guarantee food standards. That’s easier for big farms to afford and is helping drive the shift towards larger herds in fewer farms.

Fresh milk is generally not traded internationally. But a lot of milk is processed into butter, cheese, milk powder and other products (think ready-made lasagne) which can be sold globally. So the market for milk and the price that dairy companies pay to farmers for their fresh milk can fluctuate rapidly.

A lot of farmers say that they are now paid less for each litre of milk than it costs them to produce it.

As customers, we don’t make things any easier. We tend to buy on the basis of price, so the supermarkets and food processors have an incentive to keep the price they pay to farmers as low as possible.

The other massive challenge facing British dairy farmers is Bovine TB. I support strict rules now on testing cattle and moving them around the country. I’d look forward to the day when science produces reliable vaccines.

But we also have to face the reality that wildlife, especially badgers, do also carry the disease and I regard culling as an unpleasant and regrettable necessity.

We sometimes take it for granted that there are farmers to look after the countryside and put food on our tables. But farms are businesses and need to make profits to survive. That is by no means easy and it’s salutary to understand the challenges that they face in our area.