As we look over the beautiful grass meadows at the foot of the Downs, don't let's forget that it's our local farmers who maintain the countryside as it is.  So the plight of dairy farmers is something that should concern us all.

I've had letters from a number of local producers, including Chichester College which keeps a dairy herd near Pulborough as part of its training course for young farmers.

They feel that farmers are being unfairly disadvantaged, to the point that many are being forced out of business.  Indeed, the number of dairy farmers in West Sussex has halved in a decade.

Milk costs the consumer around 46p a pint and costs around 30p a pint to produce.  But some dairy farmers are caught up in one-sided contracts with middle-man processors, like Dairy Crest in the case of Chichester College, who pay them only 25p a pint.  This 5p loss for every pint produced is costing affected farmers up to £40,000 a year.

The price of milk is at historic lows.  New data reveals that the price in shops has fallen by 16 per cent over the past three years and is lower than in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark.

With a few buyers dominating the market, smaller producers can be unfairly squeezed.

The Government has helped to broker a voluntary code of practice between dairy producers and farmers, which should help to prevent the exploitation we've seen.

Not all supermarkets had been taking advantage of farmers, and the big three who -  it was claimed - were paying farmers below cost price - ASDA, Morrisons and The Co-op - have agreed to increase the price they pay as a result of the recent pressure.

Major processors, such as Wisemans and Dairy Crest, have also pledged not to implement further price cuts. 

To safeguard farmers in the long term, the Government is legislating for a Grocery Code Adjudicator who will oversee relations between farmers and producers, an idea I pioneered when in Opposition.  This will protect smaller suppliers by ensuring that large retailers cannot abuse their power.

We all want to keep the cost of living as low as possible, and dairy farmers must be competitive.  But British famers should be treated fairly - or else in the end the consumer will lose, as well as the countryside.

Christopher N Howarth