MOST PEOPLE have their sights set on what life will be like after the coronavirus crisis becomes manageable.

We have had to re-adjust our focus from the virus threat being over, because that is not going to happen until a vaccine is available and proven to work. What we are facing is a new normality and there is now a difference of approach around how to achieve that between London and the UK's devolved regions.

The R number, which reflects new Covid infections, will be the measure of whether Boris Johnson's more liberal approach is correct – but evidence from elsewhere is that early lock-down easing is a risky strategy.

In the midst of that debate, farmers will go on doing what they are doing. Agriculture is a business as close to normality as it is possible for businesses to be. For farming, despite the new premium on the advantages of a secure food supply, that has brought the familiar picture of working hard to lose money on key commodities. We may know the reasons for this – generally linked to the loss of the food service sector and exports – but that does not make it any more acceptable.

People talk about how things will change when the virus has finally been checked. One thing that needs to change is that society must forge a new relationship with food. This is about reconnecting with where food comes from and what goes into producing it. But it goes beyond that into issues of true quality, food security and accepting that seasons are natural, rather than expecting supermarkets shelves to have soft fruit in November and December.

This needs to be rooted in an acceptance that price is not everything, even if affordability will be an issue in the difficult economic slump that is looming. Price will remain important, but people need to re-order the spending priorities to view quality food as an essential rather than a luxury.

That is for the future, but for now farmers need to find ways to live with low prices. The European Commission has done its bit by pumping €80 million into private storage schemes. The general view is that this is not enough to make a real difference, but it has at least stopped things getting even worse. That applies to beef, but the dairy industry faces more fundamental problems of restricted export markets that private storage schemes are unlikely to solve.

The loss of the food service demand is having an impact across the meat sector. There is a hierarchy of pricing, with what happens to beef impacting prices for lamb, pork and chicken – with chicken in particular an either/or choice with minced beef for many consumers.

Into this debate comes the first real point of difference to emerge between where agricultural policy is going in the EU and UK. This has not been the case to date, since the UK is still effectively part of the CAP in terms of rules and support. That will remain the case until, in theory, the transition period for the UK's departure ends in December. The debate between Brussels and London is about whether there can then be a trade deal and if there is to what degree the same regulations will be retained in the UK. This has been eclipsed by the coronavirus crisis and the looming economic collapse all countries face, but whether it happens in December or is delayed, Brexit is coming and that is not going to change.

The point of difference is that, regardless of the coronavirus crisis, the EU is pressing ahead with its ultra-green Farm to Fork strategy for the food industry. As the name suggests, this covers every aspect from farming to food waste by retailers. It is part of a wider green initiative to reduce carbon emissions by the EU. It is a radical policy, and while Brussels is suggesting the Brexit talks should be delayed, because of coronavirus, it is not allowing anything to stop this green juggernaut. It has ignored calls from the farming lobby and others for a delay, despite the policy being more about political dogma than economics.

The UK and EU will soon be on very different agricultural tracks, and that could make a trade deal for food even more difficult. Ironically, it creates the conditions for Brexit enthusiasts to show why agriculture here might ultimately do better outside the EU system.