MARKETS are impossible to understand – hence the complex science of economics that I studied more years ago than I like to admit.

Across Europe one of the few bright spots has been that farmers and food processors have managed to keep supermarket shelves well stacked with crucial items, including milk and dairy products. This makes it all the more ironic that because of a slump in prices, a number of member states are pressing the European Commission to open intervention or private storage for dairy products.

This is happening because, while the domestic market is strong, the export market has disappeared for many products. This underlines that production cannot happen in isolation. We are part of a complex market, first in Europe, then globally. This was always one of the key stumbling blocks with Brexit concepts that the UK could succeed by standing alone.

If that was a bad idea a few weeks ago, it will be an even worse idea when the coronavirus threat is finally over and a new normality develops. That this will happen is inevitable. People have been delivered a huge shock, seeing just how thin their security blanket is when it comes to food on supermarket shelves. There may have been fighting over toilet rolls and dried pasta, but that would have been a million times worse had those shortages been of the everyday food products people rely on. Instead the industry has risen to the challenge, maintaining supply lines under difficult conditions.

Boris Johnson this week used wartime analogies to make his point about the need for self isolation. During and after the Second World War, farmers were well thought of for the contribution they made. They fed the nation when supply lines to places like the United States, Australia and New Zealand were cut. The present threat is more insidious in the shape of a virus that cannot be seen or easily fought, but farmers have risen to the challenge the same way they did in the 1940s.

Talking to people they have a new admiration for farmers and food processors – and indeed for supermarkets and their staff who cannot self-isolate at home if people are to continue having food on their tables. This really is an extension of the old American bumper sticker, which said you should never criticise a farmer with your mouth full.

If markets were operating as classic economic theory suggests, farmers, food processors and supermarkets could be profiteering on the massive demand there now is for food and security. To their credit they are not – hence the pressure for market support to maintain milk prices. This is something people must not forget when this is all over. Now is not the time for farmers or the farming lobby to remind them of that reality.

But the ammunition needs to be assembled now for when politics returns to normal and Westminster forgets the debt it owes to the industry for all it is doing, and will continue to do, to keep things as close to normal as they can be.

A few very short weeks ago farmers were the worst in the world. The media were out to put the boot in, whether it was the damage cattle were apparently doing to the environment, or whether some practices undermined the credibility of the Red Tractor scheme.

Those reports were based on very slim science when they were made, and now they just look silly and irrelevant. Common sense is prevailing that farmers are a key part of the equation that delivers the things that are really important to people. Sensible people understand that, with even many newspapers generally ready to criticise farmers accepting that our view of food and how it is produced needs to change. They know now that climate change and a desperation in London for global trade deals cannot be the sole drivers of food policy.

This is a debate that has matured and it needs to continue doing so after the coronavirus crisis is over. This column is normally devoted to events in Europe, but as countries across the EU are ravaged by the virus, they all have one thing in common. Their farmers, regardless of enterprise and support structures, have risen to the challenge of feeding their respective nations. For that they deserve the respect of every one of the 500 million citizens of the EU and UK.