LONG TERM economic forecasts are rarely accurate. They do have the advantage that by the time people realise the reality, they are likely to have forgotten the detail of what was said.

Forecasts still play a useful role however, in offering an an idea of the trends likely to be in play in the years ahead. This, in part, gets over the criticism that economists only exist to give astrologers credibility.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which represents the world's developed economies, is keen on long term forecasting. It joins forces with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to offer a decade ahead view of prospects for agriculture and food. Its latest forecast sets out what will happen from now to 2029, and for the first time it is highlighting a potential mismatch between supply and demand for food.

While it may not be relevant to the average farm, it has always been a comfort blanket that agriculture is, by definition, a growth industry. This is because population growth guaranteed rising demand to be met by increased use of technology to make agriculture more productive. Now for the first time the OECD is saying the pendulum has swung the other way. This is particularly true of developed and developing markets that drive global prosperity in farming. It says that over the coming decade supply growth will outstrip demand growth.

It is not much of a leap of economic faith to realise that this is not a desirable situation. The OECD says the coming years will see prices for the major farm commodities remaining around or below where they are now, without allowing for inflation. Within that overall trend it says there will be significant price volatility. That is not the sort of stable forecast farmers want, but this is a broad brush prediction. The picture for some parts of agriculture are more positive and a good example are livestock products. We have seen in recent months how demand for pigmeat from Swine Fever hit China lifted global markets. The OECD report says that as developing economies become more prosperous, demand for meat and dairy products will grow at the expense of demand for staple products. This is a continuation of a trend already in place – the growth of a new and prosperous middle class in new markets.

This is good news and one of the reasons EU food export sales are so strong. The hope is that the UK will find ways to benefit by quickly developing trade deals to retain markets it already has as an EU member state. Less good news comes in the shape of what is described as 'perverse economics'. This is where trends other than normal supply and demand come into play. This happens in sophisticated markets where people make choices around factors other than price and need. It is in this area that the OECD raises a red flag, which the farming industry will ignore at its peril. While demand for livestock products will rise in many markets the report warns that it could fall in traditionally prosperous markets.

This reflects a trend against livestock farming that began to accelerate this year, even if it was choked off for a time when coronavirus squeezed issues such as the environment out the headlines. The OECD report says a significant threat will come from consumers making diet choices based on environmental concerns about all forms of livestock farming.

This is down to the success being achieved by pressure groups out to make meat eating and even dairy products as socially unacceptable as smoking. They were a joke, then a trend, but now this report confirms they have become a threat. On that basis I fear that while most forecasts in long term reports are forgotten by the time their end point is reached, this is a predication that will prove prophetic.

It is not a trend farmers can accommodate; there is no point in trying to be reasonable with those whose goal is to eliminate what livestock farmers do. This is a battle farmers and the farming lobby cannot afford to lose from failure to take seriously a threat the OECD report makes clear is now a challenge for a key part of agriculture.

So, no more Mr Nice Guy – these pressure groups must be taken on head to head, because failure is no longer an option.