ACROSS THE world, battling the coronavirus is, rightly, the only show in town. This is not about politics or economics – it is a battle against a disease and there is no road map that guarantees success.

We all take hope from countries that are managing to turn their curve of infections and deaths downwards. As in any battle, success is neither certain or easily achieved. But by keeping food supplies going and helping avoid any justification for panic buying, farmers are playing their part. They have every reason to be proud of their achievement.

When the disease is finally curbed to the degree that we can live with it until a vaccine becomes available, a new political challenge will emerge. Every economy in the world is going to emerge from this in deep recession. Millions of jobs will have been lost, many permanently; rebuilding global trade will be a major challenge and governments cannot continue pumping billions of dwindling tax receipts into supporting economies sicker than in the 2007 financial crisis or even the Great Depression from 1929 to 1933.

There is also a very real chance that society, shocked by current events, will think again about what is important. This could drive a move away from a generation of spend, spend, spend that has supported a booming global services sector.

For decades to come, economists will write papers about the consequences and how quickly old certainties changed. The global lock-down has underlined how thin our veneer of civilisation is, and how easily it is disrupted by events we cannot control. This is the ultimate example of chaos theory in action, where small unrelated events come together to have an enormous impact.

Many certainties will have been swept away, but one that will hold true is that basic industries survive best in tough times. Farming is clearly one of those industries, in that there is always a demand for food, regardless of other economic events. Indeed food and shelter are the people's first priorities in any society and that will not change.

This should be good news for farmers and the food industry in very uncertain times. It is an industry that does not experience the heights of global boom times, but will now be glad to avoid the troughs. This has been the situation in agriculture for centuries, despite the industry becoming more global. It is an economic fact of life that will be welcome over the coming months and even years, as other industries struggle to rebuild what they had just a few months ago. Many will come to realise that this is not possible, because people will be short of spending power for a long time, and because many will re-order their priorities in favour of a more cautious approach to life and spending.

Easter should have been a way point for people this weekend, as part of the move into summer. That would have been helped by the good weather, but this year it will be just another weekend in lock-down with even churches closed for regular services.

It is a holiday that should have stimulated demand for food as families came together, but that too is firmly off the agenda. That makes it all the more frustrating that farmers are witnessing some supermarkets seeking to promote imported lamb as a speciality product. This was probably on its way before the lock-down, but it is nonetheless a kick in the teeth for farmers that have been struggling to keep shelves stacked across the UK.

The red meat sector is already being hit hard because every restaurant across Europe is closed. It would have been nice if supermarkets and consumers had supported farmers by backing sales of local lamb for Easter.

People are keen to thank front line workers for all they do, but farmers are key back room workers. Without their efforts, panic buying would have been disastrously bad. A 'thank you' by avoiding importing and selling New Zealand lamb or Polish beef would have been a small gesture. Instead, over the Polish beef, ABP, Sainsbury's and Asda have been left looking mean spirited, and rightly so.

We do however have to see imports through the prism of being an exporting country. Our exports are someone else's imports. If we seek to renationalise the food market in the wake of coronavirus and Brexit that will not be a good outcome for Scottish agriculture – attractive as it may look now.


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Thanks – and stay safe